Commentary > Wastler's Wanderings
Don't change money. Please.
A new nickel? Revamping the Twenty? When it comes to currency, boring is fine, thanks.
May 13, 2003: 5:08 PM EDT

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It's been a tough few years. Please...leave my money alone.

Nobody will ever listen, much less act, on my plea. Change comes, good or bad, like it or not. But still, a little stability in this world, or at least in my pocket, would be nice.

But no. First they change Ben Franklin's look on the $100 bill in 1996. That didn't bug me so much since I hardly ever see a hundred dollar bill. But then, the next year, there was Ulysses S. Grant peering out of the $50 bill like one of those big-headed "Precious Moments" sticky sweet cartoon kids. The $20 bill followed in 1998. Then the $5 and the $10 versions came soon thereafter.

But mucking up the paper money wasn't enough. Oh no, a whole parade of quarters started marching out in 1999. That procession won't end until 2008.

Four of these strange quarters will trade for one Sacagawea gold dollar. That replaced the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, which everyone hated because it was too easily confused with the quarter. Sue or Sac, the cashier at the store downstairs still rolls her eyes when you offer a dollar coin. No place to put it in the register. Besides, we all grew up knowing a dollar is paper. Period.

Now the government is going to start changing things again. President Bush just signed a bill giving the U.S. mint the go ahead to start producing a new nickel to commemorate Lewis and Clark and kick off Monticello. Jefferson's head, though, will stay on to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase. This will play well with my quarter confusion.

And this summer, a new $20 bill is being planned. One with a color tint away from the usual green.

Oh that's icky. Shades of all the multicolored, tissue paper money traded outside our borders. Beautiful and artistic you say? Ha! Discarded potato chip bags have the same amount of color and flash...and in many cases the same worth.

The Greenback: Monotone? Okay. Boring? Sort of. Stable? You bet. And God bless it. In a world where rubles get rubbished, ringitts are wrung out and pesos get pounded (the last three global currency crises) I'm glad to have a currency that is just as boring and stable in appearance as it is in practice.

And even collectors aren't excited.

"It's the mistakes serious collectors are interested in. There's just too much of the regular currency out there (for people to be interested in a new series)," said Ron Wise, a longtime collector with an extensive currency site.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've heard all the arguments for changing money. Colorful money is easier to distinguish (except for the color blind). Actually, I've found the numbers on the corner a sufficient way of distinguishing. And those drunken nights when I couldn't make out what I was giving the stripper...I mean cabbie? That was karma for drinking too much.

The changes fight off counterfeiters. I have no argument here.

But do they have to make it so ugly?

As for the coin commemorations? They don't work. The average U.S. citizen would be hard pressed to tell you the name of the building on the nickel, much less who Lewis and Clark were. And God forbid what the average man on the street would say a Louisiana Purchase is.

Quick, what's the state motto of Pennsylvania? You have to look it up, don't you, even though it's been on a quarter in circulation for more than three years.

See? All that effort and a quarter is still just a quarter. Wouldn't it have been easier just to leave it alone?  Top of page

Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNN/Money. He can be e-mailed at

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