Personal Finance

New $50 bills unveiled
The federal government announces the latest currency redesign: U.S. Grant puts on a new face.
April 26, 2004: 2:12 PM EDT
By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The Bureau of Engraving and Printing Monday unveiled a redesigned version of the $50 bill, the latest in a series of currency redesigns intended to thwart counterfeiters.

The new $50 front (click to enlarge)

The decision to redesign the $50 was made last year, and announced simultaneously with the new $20. Those smaller-denomination bills were released to the public beginning in October 2003.

The new look of the $50s was displayed at a ceremony at a printing plant in Fort Worth, Tex., where the notes are to be made. Production will begin this summer, according to Bureau spokeswoman Dawn Haley, and the new $50s should enter general circulation at the end of September or beginning of October.

The new $50 back (click to enlarge)

Generally speaking, the bills follow the aesthetic guidelines set out by the $20.

For example, pastel tones will augment the old green and black color scheme, even more vibrantly than on the new $20. Ulysses S. Grant will continue to be pictured, but his face appears more prominently, as Andrew Jackson's does on the $20.

The number 50 is presented in a variety of newly introduced fonts. On the back, the engraving of the Capitol Building has been altered slightly as well.

Fun Facts about the $50
The $50 debuted in 1862
Ulysses S. Grant has been on the $50 since 1913.
The average lifespan of a $50 is five years.
There are approximately 1.2 billion, or $58.2 billion, $50s in circulation.

"This $50 note is beautifully designed and includes important anti-counterfeiting features," said Federal Reserve Board governor Mark Olson, in a speech made at the unveiling ceremony. Fighting note forgery, he added, "is a job that's never finished."

Although colorization is the most immediately visible difference between the new and old bills, other anti-counterfeiting features may be more technologically significant. These include an embedded plastic strip running vertically; a watermark image engrained into the paper itself; and color-shifting ink, whose appearance changes as you tilt the bill against light.

When the $20 was unveiled, the Bureau launched a large, consumer-focused marketing campaign to explain the redesign to the public. The government spent about $12 million in advertising, and arranged product placement deals to insert the bills onto a number of national TV shows, including the game shows "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune," and sporting events aired on ESPN and ABC.

Counterfeit bills
Federal Reserve

This time, "there will be more of a business-to-business focus to our public education efforts," said Haley. The Bureau is working with vending machine makers and others to ensure a smooth rollout when the new $50s are released in the fall.

When the $20 launched, a snafu arose involving self-service cashiers, those new, do-it-yourself checkout machines. A handful of the machines did not update their optical-recognition software to read the redesigned notes -- a small glitch, but one that left the BEP red-faced nonetheless.

"The technology was so new, we missed a few," acknowledged Haley.  Top of page

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