Monday Morning Brief for Feb. 22, 2021: Our unchanging notes
- Published: Feb 22, 2021, 7 AM
The topic of paper money redesign received widespread attention in mid-February with the publication online of separate articles at Politico and Foreign Policy, both reflecting on the reluctance of U.S. policy makers to introduce new designs.
Both articles led with the news that the Biden administration has given the go-ahead to the Treasury Department to continue redesigning the $20 Federal Reserve note to replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson with that of Harriet Tubman
The piece in Politico was written by a personage familiar to the numismatic community — Ellen Feingold, curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
Feingold writes, “It’s not hard to understand why some Americans might see the redesign as a radical break from tradition,” noting that for a century, U.S. paper money has “featured a static set of Founding Fathers and presidents, government buildings and national memorials.” She added, “This 20th-century consistency created the illusion that significant design alterations would sever our currency’s ties to its past.”
That belief is wrong, she continues, as she takes readers through a wonderful history of 19th century currency design, when private and national paper money depicted a wide range of individuals and themes much more diverse than the politicians and Founding Fathers seen today. She concludes that American notes “are dynamic objects that have undergone change many times before. Thinking more broadly about them now and in the future would help to strengthen our ties to our past and to one another.”
In the Foreign Policy article, discussed in Art Friedberg’s news coverage this week, university professor Paul Musgrave writes that “U.S. symbols are so politicized and so resistant to change that putting anyone new on Federal Reserve notes takes so much effort.”
“Americans are famously resistant to learning from other countries’ experience, but it’s worth recalling just how unusual the conservatism of U.S. banknotes is,” he adds. Art explains what he means in his news coverage.
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