Paper Money

Tubman $20 note delayed until at least 2026

Historians revealed early in 2017 the discovery of a new photograph of Harriet Tubman. The image shows the daring abolitionist at around 45 years old, much younger than previously known images.

Original photo courtesy of Swann Galleries.

The week of April 15 was the second anniversary of the announcement by the Obama administration’s Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the face of a revised $20 bill. Lew also announced that the $5 and $10 notes would also be revised to pay homage to icons of the women’s rights and civil rights movements. Lew said that the first of the new notes would make their appearance in 2020 on the centennial of women gaining the right to vote.

What happened? Since then, references to the revisions have been scrubbed clean from government websites with remarkable efficiency. Lew’s successor, Steven Mnuchin, told CNN last year, “It’s not something that I’m focused on at the moment,” and his boss, Donald Trump, has expressed an affinity for Andrew Jackson, even featuring his portrait in the Oval Office. Trump has in the past called the Tubman decision an act of political correctness, and suggested that Tubman be placed on the $2 bill instead. That denomination depicts the third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

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The announcement anniversary received little attention in mass media save for the Daily Beast news and opinion website, where Elisha Brown brought this information to the attention of her readers on April 19. Brown said that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing told her that “the redesigns have not been finalized or approved for circulation. The next note set to be released is the $10 bill, and the redesign won’t enter circulation until 2026.”

Given that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing told Coin World in August 2017 that work was continuing on the development of the advanced security elements that are the reason for currency redesign, for some it seems incomprehensible that it will take the United States almost another decade to accomplish what the European Union and most major countries do in a fraction of that time.

The Beast confirmed that the current issue plan is from the Treasury Department’s Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence Steering Committee, and that a new $10 bill will come out first, followed by the $50 bill, and then the $20 note. A spokesperson told Brown that the fight against counterfeiting could push the release dates back even further. That means, Brown says, “The public may not see the Tubman $20 bill until years, even decades after the original 2020 design release date.”

The new $10 note is expected to have some sort of tactile feature intended to enable the visually impaired to determine the note’s denomination. 

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