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Court ruling could boost paper collecting

Harper Dave.jpgIf the hobby wants a boost, all it needs to do is hope that the U.S. Treasury acts quickly to comply with the May 20 court ruling to make our paper currency identifiable by the blind.

Just as U.S. coin collecting got a boost when the state quarter series began in 1999 and paper money collecting got a boost when the first big head note (the $100 Federal Reserve Note) appeared in 1996, yet another sequence of new notes would command new public attention and would generate many new collectors.

When I blogged on the court ruling May 21, there were more comments attached to it than any other topic that I have written about in the prior year. Such is the power of merely the idea. Think of the power of actual new notes working their way into public hands.

Even a former director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Robert Leuver, was moved to write about the topic for this issue of Numismatic News. I hope you enjoy reading his thoughts as much as I have.

Will the Treasury appeal the ruling? It could. It could drag this out for years yet. Could it jump on the issue and work to comply? It could, but certainly it would take some lead time to come up with new designs or devices for the whole U.S. paper money series. We are currently in the redesign cycle for each denomination. The new $5 was introduced in March. A new $100 may arrive next year. Even without the court ruling, designs are changing but the lead time is enormous.

However, even with more security devices and subtle uses of color, users of U.S. paper money today have not been really shocked upon receipt of the new notes. Such a shock would occur if the notes were of different sizes or if some other dramatic method of distinguishing the notes were employed.

Now I am not using the word ?shocked? in a bad way. What I mean is that receipt of the new note would make the average American think about it for a few seconds. When Americans are forced to change their cash handling routine for a few seconds, their mental wheels turn in such a way that they all will learn and then remember what the new currency looks like.

A small percentage of those Americans who have gone through the learning process will leap to a decision to begin to save some of the older notes that they presume will be going out of circulation.

A small percentage of that small percentage will take it one step further and decide to collect in an organized way.

That small percentage of a small percentage propelled paper money into an unparalleled boom since 1996. Design changes to accommodate the blind could do it again, and I think that is desirable.

While there are many aspects to paper money collecting, from the large-size federal notes of 1861-1929 to obsoletes, I expect the current small-size notes starting with Series 1928 would be the primary beneficiaries of new collectors.

These collectors will discover things like web notes, printed in the 1988A, 1993 and 1995 series, that are both recent, scarce and fascinating. For the hobby, the court has done us a good turn while giving a helping hand to the blind.

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