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New Benjamin Note Revealed: High Tech…but Where’s the High-Value Pizazz?

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has just revealed its “advanced technology” $100 bill for a new digital millennium. And it’s … well, kinda similar to the old one. A bit flashier maybe, more uncopyable for sure. Just a bit disappointing overall.

new 100 dollar bill

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The U.S. Department of the Treasury has just revealed its “advanced technology” $100 bill for a new digital millennium. And it’s … well, kinda similar to the old one. A bit flashier maybe, more uncopyable for sure. Just a bit disappointing overall.

The D.O.T. is calling it advanced thanks to a number of “high tech” fixes that make the job of counterfeiting these high-denomination bills much trickier. There’s the old faithful embedded security thread and watermarks, but now they’re joined with colored, and color-changing, typography and imagery, and an interrupted colored holographic band that reminds you visually over and over again that this sliver of paper is worth a decent chunk of cash (still!)

And right there in that dreadful backing music for that video is where one’s enthusiasm for this amazing, new, shiny cash bill may run out. Because it’s a hundred dollars, folks! It’s prestigious! It’s the highest denomination note out there, it’s the mighty dollar for heaven’s sake! When you throw a fat handful of these across the chip counter in a casino, you almost want them to glimmer enough to catch passersby eyes, and possibly elicit a gasp of impressed awe.

And yet the new banknote itself is just not very exciting. The D.O.T. is saying that despite the note’s extensive “advanced technology to combat counterfeiting” it’s carefully designed so that it “retains the traditional look of U.S. currency.” Which means it’s essentially green(ish) and not at all flashy. Somehow all the subtle colors, differing fonts, emblems, stamps, and security features combine together very badly–as if nobody was paying attention to how the final product would look when they were fussing over the anti-counterfeiting details. It’s less like a symphony of design, and more like a horrendous collision of ideas…not surprising, perhaps, when you’ve got the D.O.T., the Federal Reserve Board, and the Secret Service all backing its creation.

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In fact, the amazing new “advanced technology” reminds us extraordinarily of the tech in the new £20 that the Bank of England rolled out in 2007. And that bill is as flashy as you like–with a bold, appealing visual theme and a resulting strong design “identity” that helps people recognize the note among a stack of others in a wallet. And the £20 isn’t even the nation’s highest denomination bill!

twenty pounds

You’ll be able to get your paws on one of these new bills when they’re “issued in TBD” according to the press release (slightly embarrassingly). Whenever that is, you’ll no doubt make your own mind up about the new look.

And yes, we know it’s more important, economically speaking, to ensure these high-value bills are more secure, rather than spending time to make them look fabulous…but you know what we mean. Also: Worry not those of you who’ve been hoarding benjamins beneath your mattress throughout the economic downturn, they’ll still be legal tender for a while yet.

Kit QR Twitter

To keep up with this news in a more real-time setting, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take you to my Twitter feed too. (And if you’ve no idea what that spotty-looking thing is, then find out here.)

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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