Paper Money

Decision to diminish Alexander Hamilton appalls Ben Bernanke

Painting by John Trumbull depicts Alexander Hamilton, first secretary of the Treasury and architect of the American financial system.

Image in the public domain.

While all the publicity concerning the announcement that a woman will be depicted on the new $10 Federal Reserve note was expected, the reactions to it took many by surprise. 

While opining that having a woman on a note was a good idea, former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke used the word “appalled” to describe his reaction to the possibility that Alexander Hamilton’s position would be diminished. Yet in a recent USA Today/Suffolk poll only 4 percent of respondents said the $10 bill should stay the way it is. As for the woman of choice: 8 percent favored Eleanor Roosevelt, 5 percent Rosa Parks, 4 percent Harriet Tubman, and 3 percent Susan B. Anthony. Sixty-six percent were undecided or unsure.

The new bill seems to have become something of an issue. This, coupled with the recent story on Hong Kong’s new commemorative $150 note, and the successful introduction of commemorative paper money issues in countries too numerous to mention, gives pause for thought. 

Maybe those resistant to change and those wanting change can both be kept happy by an idea that seems radical at first, but hardly is at all. Why can’t the United States issue commemorative notes of its own?

It can’t be said that something similar hasn’t been done before. Perhaps the issue was not officially called “commemorative,” but the Series 1976 $2 Federal Reserve note was precisely that. It was issued on the occasion of the Bicentennial, and the back design of John Trumbull’s painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence was no coincidence. 

Going back to the preceding century, although they were circulating silver certificates, the Educational Series of 1896 did nothing if not “commemorate” the progress of the last half of the 19th century. What about William Windom, who died in January 1891 and appears on the $2 silver certificates of 1891, or Thomas A. Hendricks, vice president when he died in 1885 and subject of the $10 silver certificate of 1886? 

So it can be done and has been done. Would it be confusing to have different designs of the same denomination circulate side-by-side? Not at all. The above notes circulated simultaneously with at least several other designs of the same denomination, as was the case throughout the large-size note era. 

What do Coin World’s readers think?

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