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Will purple make you look for red and blue?

Yesterday’s debut of the new design for the $5 Federal Reserve Note is good news for collectors. Any time a design is changed on notes or coins, the public notices and some discover numismatics in the process.

Regular design changes to U.S. paper money began occurring in 1996 with the advent of what hobbyists call the “Big Head” design for the $100 Federal Reserve Note. It was no accident that the paper money hobby really took off following this event.

We have since cycled through $50s, $20s and $10s. Some have changed a couple of times, with the most recent generation of notes having subtle shades of color.

Subtle may be good. The Treasury was worried about negative public reaction to bold use of color.

The new $5 will have a large purple “5” on the lower left of the back of the note, or is it lavender or mauve? Which name is more subtle?

But whether the Treasury worries about color are justified or not, they have definitely succeeded in the past 11 years with making the public comfortable with new notes.

I looked in my wallet to pull a $5 and a $10 as references and it occurred to me that the $10 is the first generation of Big Head note, not the second, so older notes obviously are still circulating side by side with the current series without many people noticing a difference.

Subtle colors may be good for another reason. It distinguishes current paper money from the earlier issues that ran from the 1860s to the 1960s. Few remember the blue seals of Silver Certificates and the red seals of United States Notes. Almost nobody recalls yellow seals of Gold Certificates. These colors helped the public make distinctions between types of paper and payment. Now color is solely a counterfeit deterrent.

The idea of having different classes of money sounds odd or quaint, but finding out about them as a collector is exciting.

Whether the “5” on the $5 is purple or not is not the question. The question is how many people who happen to notice the color at all will go on to find the bolder colors on the notes of prior generations and avidly collect them? I think quite a few.

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One Response to Will purple make you look for red and blue?

  1. Scott Barman says:

    Color has always been used as a counterfeiting deterrent. Green was originally used because the early photographic equipment did not duplicate green well. Of course that changed over the years, so the BEP made changes to the micro-printing to prevent the imaging equipment from being able to duplicate the designs.

    Today, the use of colors and the color shifting ink does not duplicate well with today’s imaging equipment. Current optical technology cannot isolate the multiple colors properly. Also, the purple color used in the $5 note will duplicate with red hues under "normal" circumstances. There is professional equipment that will do a better job, but it will not be able to reproduce the color shifting properties.

    Two changes made to the $5 note will help fight counterfeiting better than the other physical changes. BEP changed the watermark by not reproducing the portrait and adding a second watermark. Additionally, the security thread embedded in the paper is on the opposite side of where it was placed in the past and the pattern was altered. What this will do is help prevent people from "washing" the note to print higher denominations on the same paper.

    As for the color, I am upset that BEP has kept to its "subtle change" policy. After seeing notes from areas like Europe and Israel that use their money to honor people and events, the US FRN looks old next to these other notes. For such a modern and progressive country that is supposed to lead the world, its money is very boring!

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