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Redesigned $50 Bill Enters U.S. Circulation

September 29, 2004|Emma Schwartz | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The green is still there, but with touches of red, yellow and blue. A stylized image of the Stars and Stripes now waves in the background. But even after the face lift, $50 is still worth $50.

The U.S. Treasury sent its latest redesigned greenback into circulation Tuesday, part of an effort to combat counterfeiters, as officials gathered at Union Station to make the first official purchase: a U.S. flag costing $45.

The new note "represents the latest step in an effort to stay ahead of counterfeit currency," said Thomas Ferguson, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The first multicolored bill, a $20 note, made its debut in October.

The $50 bill has added security features: ink that appears to change from copper to green with movement, a security thread embedded in the paper that spells out the denomination of the bill, and a watermark image of Ulysses S. Grant. Tiny yellow 50s are printed on the back, which officials said would be harder to duplicate.

Much remains from the old bill: The portrait of Grant, the 18th U.S. president, is still front and center. A picture of the Capitol remains on the back.

About 1.2 billion of the old $50 notes are in circulation worldwide and will continue to be used until they wear out. In coming months, the Federal Reserve will release more than 76.8 million of the new bills.

The Treasury expects to unveil a new $10 bill by the spring and is working on a new $100 bill; the $1, $2 and $5 notes will remain the same.

In 2003, the government seized $63 million in counterfeit bills before they went into circulation and found $38 million already in use. Most of that was in $20 notes, the most heavily counterfeited currency. Abroad, $100 bills make up the bulk of copycat money. Among $50 notes, only 1 in 25,000 are counterfeit.

Officials said the changes were aimed at the increase in digitally produced counterfeit bills, which have surged from 1% of all bogus money in 1995 to 40% today. Despite the technology, the amount of counterfeit money has remained constant -- no more than 0.02% of the more than $700 billion U.S. dollars in circulation, according to the Secret Service.

Dawn Haley, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, said the redesign was an important part of staying ahead of counterfeiters. The Treasury plans to issue new money every seven to 10 years.

But at Tuesday's event, all that mattered was the new bill.

"I think it's great," said Edwin Kiniry, a 78-year-old tourist from Colorado. "I'd like to have a couple."

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