One of the biggest hobby stories of 2016 made headlines in the
mainstream media for weeks. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, pressured by
a massive and long-running social media effort by Women on 20s
and others, ordered that abolitionist Harriet Tubman be depicted on
the next generation of $20 Federal Reserve note.
Replacing the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the current $20 note is
not the only step Lew took. He exceeded the expectations of the Women
on 20s group by ordering changes to the back designs of the $5
and $10 notes that, when implemented, will bring greater diversity to
American paper money than ever before and reintroduce historical
vignettes to the notes.
A repeat from 2015
This story also made our Top 10 list for 2015, though that year
ended with Treasury officials saying they needed more time to consider
the results of a public poll calling for the replacement of the
portrait of President Andrew Jackson on the $20 Federal Reserve note.
By modern standards, Jackson is considered by many to be unworthy of
his prominent position on the note; he was a slave owner and he also
ordered the forcible relocation of southeastern Native American tribes
westward so their original lands could be appropriated by white
Americans; and he caused a nationwide economic crisis because of his
actions taken against the banking system.
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The movement to replace Jackson with a woman gained strength and
widespread support with the 2014 founding of the group Women on 20s.
In 2015, the group conducted a public poll that revealed 19th century
abolitionist Harriet Tubman as the favored candidate. By the summer,
Treasury Secretary Jacob announced that a woman would be depicted on a
note — the $10 note and not the recommended $20 note — and invited
public comment on what the new $10 note should look like. The reason
cited for the $10 note was that it was next in line for redesign, with
a rollout anticipated about 2020, the centennial of the granting women
the right to vote nationwide. The decision not to use the $20 note did
not sit well with many and, in 2015, Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s
first Treasury secretary and the topic of the $10 note, gained renewed
celebrity thanks to a Broadway hit musical.
The power of music
The musical Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, became the
breakout hit of 2015 and 2016, earning a record-breaking 16 Tony
nominations and catapulting Alexander Hamilton into the limelight. A
movement spurred by the success of the musical focused on saving
Hamilton’s position on the $10 note. By the summer of 2015, it was
increasingly apparent that removing the architect of the American
financial system would become a very unpopular move. Still, months
would pass before the Treasury Department would announce its plans.
On April 20, 2016, the Treasury Department issued a press release on
the behalf of Treasury Secretary Lew, revealing plans more
wide-ranging than many anticipated. As Coin World reported then, Lew
ordered that Harriet Tubman replace Andrew Jackson on the face of the
$20 Federal Reserve note (Jackson will be moved to the back); the back
of the $10 note, showing the Treasury Building, will be revised to
show an image of the historic March 3, 1913, march for suffrage that
ended on the steps of the Treasury Department and will honor the
leaders of the suffrage movement — Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth,
Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul; while the
back of the $5 note, retaining the Lincoln Memorial, will be
redesigned to honor events held there that helped to shape American
history and democracy, and depict such figures as Martin Luther King
Jr. and Marian Anderson.
The Federal Reserve and Bureau of Engraving and Printing are already
working on the changes.
In October 2016, BEP Director Leonard R. Olijar offered an update on
the redesign process, saying the BEP and Federal Reserve were working
together to speed up the usual time line so all three notes could
enter circulation as quickly as possible while still satisfying
security requirements. As Coin World reported, he said a
priority was having the new $10 note ready for production by Aug. 18,
2020, along with final design concepts for the $5 and $20 notes. The
target date is the centennial of the signing of the 19th Amendment,
giving women the right to vote.
Lew’s decision to place Tubman on the $20 note and to depict
historical scenes on the $5 and $10 notes (resurrecting the lost
concept of historical vignettes once common on U.S. paper money), was
not universally praised. Some opponents called the decision an act of
“political correctness” and some commentators voiced their objections
in racist terms.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, was one of the opponents and he acted in
Congress by introducing an amendment to the law that prohibits the
government from redesigning the $1 note by expanding the prohibition
to cover all Federal Reserve notes. That measure did not pass, however.
With the Trump administration taking over the executive branch on
Jan. 20, some have wondered if there is any possibility that his
Treasury secretary could reverse Lew’s decision. While technically
that could happen, the redesign process is far enough advance that
stopping the current efforts would be seen as detrimental to the
security of the nation’s paper currency and in violation of a federal
court order to make the notes accessible to the visually impaired. All
of the new notes are to have enhanced anti-counterfeiting technology
and features that will enable the blind to identify a note’s
denomination by touch.
Will the redesign effort become one of 2017’s top stories? We may
know in the months ahead.
Read all of our Coin World Top 10 of 2016 series:
- U.S. Mint issues gold Centennial coins
- Pogue IV auction tops $16 million
- Rare English gold coin found in toy
- Boutique bullion trend catches on worldwide
- Langbord 1933 double eagle case rolls on
- 1974-D aluminum cent returned to U.S. Mint
- Treasury announces new Federal Reserve note
- 1964 Morgan dollar tooling uncovered
- American Liberty silver medal released
- U.S. Mint plans yearlong 225th anniversary party