It's still all about the Benjamins.
The Fed started supplying financial institutions with a radically redesigned $100 bill this week that features several new anti-counterfeiting measures. The most notable changes are a blue 3D security ribbon with images of bells and 100s, and a color-changing bell in an inkwell.
It's certainly the coolest banknote the U.S. mint has ever produced, but that's not saying much. The U.S. designs lack the imagination, creativity, and overall spark of a lot of world currencies.
For example, Bermuda printed a new $2 note in 2009, the first redesign in 40 years, and it's a beautiful representation of the island's natural beauty and architectural heritage. Despite its low monetary value, it incorporates several anti-counterfeiting measures without disrupting the design: a metallic band, several watermarks, and fluorescent ink.
Or look at Kazakhstan's new series of banknotes, which have won the International Bank Note Society's Note of the Year two years running and is nominated again this year.
The complex color and imagery of the collage art on the Tenge is unparalleled by any note I've ever come across. It successfully incorporates notable security measures such as holographic bands and watermarks without making them stand out like they do on the new U.S. $100 bill.
My all-time favorite note, though, has to be Cook Island's three dollar bill, which includes a nude Ina (a mythological Polynesian figure) riding a friggin' shark! On the back, it features a naked figure of the god Te-Rongo next to a traditional canoe. It's quite the depiction of the culture in the islands.
There's one thing that sets these banknotes apart, aside from their fantastic designs: they all come from small economies. Most of these bills won't see any time outside of their local economies, so the designers are free to be creative.
The U.S. dollar, on the other hand, is the world's reserve currency. The design, above all, needs to convey trustworthiness. Sticking with the same dead politicians, and simply putting a new variation on an old theme is the best way for the U.S. mint to ensure our notes are easily recognized the world over.
It's not just the U.S. dollar. It seems like the more widely used the currency, the more conservative the bills are designed. Take a look at the Euro notes.
Although slightly more interesting than the U.S. bills, in my opinion, the Euro notes are still awfully conservative compared to naked women on sharks or collages with doves flying over panthers. Such is the burden of a widely used currency.
As exciting and radical as the changes to the U.S. $100 bill are to us, the design wouldn't even draw a raised eyebrow in Kazakhstan (other than the fact that the bill is still worth $100). The U.S. dollar is boring, and has a certain duty to always be boring. If you want to see some really awesome currency notes, your best bet is to start exploring small insular economies.
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