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Andrew Jackson shows his softer side on the new, multicolored $20.
October 10, 2003: 10:43 AM EDT
By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money Contributing Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Andrew Jackson took a star turn in Times Square Thursday, as government officials unveiled the new $20 bill to an audience of journalists, bemused tourists, and a few slightly grumpy New Yorkers.

As a general, Jackson earned fame for slaughtering Native Americans and sticking it to the British. On the new bills, the government is showing the softer side of Old Hickory, by engraving his dashing visage against a background of pastel colors: peach, powder blue, and a tasteful hint of green.

The New York City press event featured a phalanx of officials from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), the Federal Reserve, and the Secret Service, the agency charged with the nation's anti-counterfeiting efforts.

The unveiling of a new bill is big news in moneymaking circles, and officials were treating it that way.

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CNNfn's J.J. Ramberg reports on Andrew Jackson's new look and how the $20 bill is taking on the life of a hollywood star.

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They made an early morning appearance on the "Today" show, letting Katie Couric become the first New Yorker to buy something with the new bill. (She bought coffee at Dean & Deluca.)

A few hours later, BEP Director Tom Ferguson unveiled a new Times Square billboard -- it's sandwiched between one for a brewery and another for a mortgage lender -- and trumpeted the new notes in front of about 20 television cameras and a gaggle of reporters.

"We're making the currency safer, smarter and more secure," Ferguson said.

After brief remarks, Ferguson made his own first purchase with the bill, buying a two-dollar "I Love New York" t-shirt from a street vendor, Casildo Caballero Jr.

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Onlookers and passersby gave the new bill mixed reviews.

A trio of visitors from Azerbaijan examined the bill and gave it the thumbs up. "I think it looks American, certainly," said one, smiling.

A few locals, however, weren't as impressed. "All this (expletive) for a new 20 bill?" a man in a New York Yankees cap asked dismissively. "They're gonna make 'em anyway."

One step ahead

Government officials stressed that the redesign -- and its attendant marketing -- are necessary steps to keep the currency trusted and secure.

Old Hickory gets a makeover. Click for detail.

"It's an opportunity to be proactive," said Steven Carey, who runs the Secret Service's New York operations. "We're using new technologies to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters."

Nearly 1 billion new bills are being released into circulation over the next few weeks, according to Dawn Haley, a spokeswoman for BEP. She noted that new bills will be the only kind of $20s the Federal Reserve will ship to banks in October, in order to "flood the system."

Even so, it may take a while before consumers start seeing them.

In a wildly unscientific survey, this reporter visited four bank branches nearby Times Square. None of them had yet received any new notes.

New York
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Federal Reserve

Officials at a Fleet branch were aware of the new $20's debut, but did not know when they would have them in stock. At Sterling National, a banker said she expected to have them in next week, and offered a brochure to bide time during the wait.

Tellers at HSBC and Washington Mutual, however, said they knew nothing about the existence of the new currency, though both were intrigued when shown one of the notes.

The Washington Mutual employee summed up the state of things, at least for now: "I don't know anything about peach $20s," he said. "All our money is green."  Top of page

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