Paper Money

New Harriet Tubman $20 portrait option surfaces

A new photograph of a much younger Harriet Tubman, at around 45 years old, was recently discovered by historians.

Original photo courtesy of Swann Galleries.

The many renditions of what abolitionist Harriet Tubman may look like on the new $20 have been remarkably consistent, mainly because so few actual photos of her are known, all of them from late in her life.

A new photograph, of a much younger Tubman, at around 45 years old, was recently identified by historian Kate Clifford Larson, in a photo album that once belonged to Tubman’s friend, the abolitionist Emily Howland. Larson says that the photo was probably taken shortly after the Civil War at Tubman’s home in Auburn, N.Y. 

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The photo will be auctioned as part of Howland’s album by Swann Galleries in New York on March 30 in a Printed & Manuscript African Americana sale. The book includes 44 photos of abolitionists, including two of Tubman. It is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.

Harriet Tubman Replacing Andrew Jackson

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.

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, Hamilton.

So after the public outcry, 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).

William T. Gibbs contributed to this report.

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