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See a proposed redesign of the $20 bill, featuring Harriet Tubman

The New York Times has obtained an early design of the new $20, but there are still doubts over whether it will see the light of day.

See a proposed redesign of the $20 bill, featuring Harriet Tubman
[Source Photo: National Portrait Gallery/Wiki Commons]

Today, the New York Times unveiled a previously unreleased design for a $20 bill featuring Harriet Tubman, which dates to early 2016. It depicts Tubman wearing a dark jacket and white scarf, looking stately and pensive.

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It’s exciting to finally see a version of the Tubman $20 bill, which was announced in 2016. The design was slated to be announced next year to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage (the new cash is now supposed to start circulating in 2030). However, there’s doubt over when—and if—the bill will actually enter circulation.

The bill’s release has been delayed by the Treasury Department for what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claims are strictly technical reasons, though other sources tell the Times that the delay stemmed from the desire to avoid the possibility of Trump canceling the new design altogether in favor of keeping Andrew Jackson, his favorite president, on the front of the bill. The Times‘s anonymous source says they have personally seen a metal engraving plate and a digital image of the design as recently as May 2018.

The movement to put a woman on the bill dates back many years, and Tubman’s selection in 2016 was cause for celebration for many; the former treasurer of the United States, Rosie Rios, even used augmented reality to envision what it would look like for all of America’s bills to have women as their face.

But the process of designing a bill is no small task, due largely to anti-counterfeiting measures. For instance, bills use green ink to guard against photocopies. That’s also why the designs are so intricate; complexity is more difficult to copy. Today, it takes highly skilled engravers who apprentice for a full decade, to painstakingly carve the design into the steel plates that then are used to print cash.

Like the rest of today’s bills, the Tubman design has all of these features. In fact, the bill looks almost identical to the ones that are already in your wallet, except for an important difference: This is the first time a woman and a person of color will be on any standard denomination. Despite the political back and forth, getting a glimpse of what the future Tubmans might look like is downright inspiring. It’s about time.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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