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Different sizes coming?

 Yesterday’s ruling in favor of the blind by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia means changes could be coming to American paper money.

Because current notes are all the same size regardless of denomination, the court said the Treasury was violating the Rehabilitation Act.

The Treasury can appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. It may do so, but the collector in me begins to speculate about notes of different sizes or notes with Braille characters.

My mind says different sizes is the preferred option, perhaps as a result of my experiences with euro notes in Germany, but even that isn’t without its bumps. Euro countries don’t have a 1. They have a coin. Will this occur in the United States as a result of a court ruling?

Europeans don’t like the 5 because it is too small. It certainly is small, but I am more worried about notes being too big rather than too small.

Braille strikes me as too easily subverted either by fakers putting Braille for high denominations on low-denomination notes, or by crushing the raised areas.

Even if not deliberately crushed, how much wear can a note take before the Braille is not recognizable?

The gears in my mind are still turning. I am sure other collectors have other thoughts. We’ll see over time how this all plays out. Of course, it might not be too long before we’ll be spending gas ration coupons rather than paper money.

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8 Responses to Different sizes coming?

  1. Scott Barman says:

    I have no problems with creating notes of different sizes for the blind. Another option would be to convert to polymer notes and impress Braille into those notes. Another option would be to use the polymer notes with embedded information that could be used by special readers. Those readers could also be sold to merchants to verify the notes to prevent counterfeiting.

    There are many options outside the myopic view that the Treasury and Bureau of Engraving and Printing see in the currency world. Hopefully, this will change with the administration.

  2. Bob says:

    I prefer the corner method.

    A bill with 4 corners is $100
    A bill with 3 corners is $50
    A bill with 2 corners is $20
    A bill with 1 corner is $10
    A bill with 0 corners is $5

    Get rid of the $1 bill.
    No one will cut off an additional corner as it will lower the denomination (for the blind).

  3. Mark says:

    After all these years of using paper money, this case comes up now? Something stinks about this

  4. Kacky Snorgle says:

    In response to Scott’s comment–note that our existing paper bills already have such "embedded features". Each denomination has a unique pattern of magnetic ink on the face side, and a unique pattern of infrared-absorbing ink on the back side. These were introduced sometime in the ’90s; I’m not sure of the details, but it was before the big-head redesign. Handheld readers of the type you describe already exist, and many blind people use them, but they’re a bit pricey. Perhaps that’s why these features do not constitute sufficient "accommodation" in the court’s view….

  5. Scott in DC says:

    Kacky… according to the American Association for the Blind, who brought the suit against the government, the problem with relying on the raised features of intaglio printing is that it flattens with worn bills. If you can find an older bill, rub your fingers across the note and you will understand why they do not consider it a good option.

  6. Coin Update says:

    Instead of raised areas for Braille, I also read about an idea of patterns of holes. Unlike Braille, this wouldn’t wear out over time.

  7. Jeff Kelley says:

    No solution is ideal, as the features which make it easier for blind people to idenitfy notes can be forged, and many can be worn down over time (such as braille). It would be far cheaper and more effective to just give every blind person who wants one an electronic device to read (and authenticate) each bill.

  8. Kacky Snorgle says:

    Scott: I’m not talking about the raised-ness of the intaglio printing, which has existed for about as long as the U.S. has issued currency. Sometime in the ’90s, the BEP began using two different black inks for the intaglio printing on the face side of each note; they look identical but have different magnetic properties. The two inks are distributed in a different pattern on each denomination, so that a simple electronic device is able to read the denomination of the note. See this example of an error note in which one of the two black inks ran out:


    Similarly, the backs of the notes are now printed with two identical-appearing green inks, which can be distinguished easily using infrared light. I’m not sure whether both these features were introduced at the same time, though.

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