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Soon the American Dollar Will Get A Whole New Look: What's Behind the Change?

BENJAMIN Franklin, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, and Alexander Hamilton are going high-tech. Last month, the United States Treasury announced that currency will be updated with new ink, designs, and anticounterfeiting devices.

The Treasury says it will come out with a new model for the bills next year and will begin printing in 1996. The department has spent about half a million dollars on research and design over a three-year period.

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The mugs that appear on the $100, $50, $20, and $10 bills will keep their well-known, dignified look. But appearances can be deceiving. For example, Ben's hair may not look the same after it has been photocopied. Instead of his usual wavy coiffure, a new ``moire-generating line structure'' will mean a reproduction will come out blotchy and thus will be more easily recognizable as a fake.

The $1 and $5 bills, which are counterfeited less frequently, will not undergo extensive changes. Currency printed before the changes will not be recalled or demonetized.

US Treasury officials say the security measures will help combat more sophisticated counterfeiting technology, such as color photocopiers and computer scanners.

``We needed to make changes now to our currency to forestall a threat in the future,'' a senior Treasury official says. The department says about $350 billion in US currency is circulating around the world ($200 billion outside the US); of that, the department estimates that about $164 million or 0.05 percent is counterfeit.

The design of US currency has not been overhauled since 1929, when bills were reduced by 25 percent (to their present size) and standardized with famous portraits on the front and emblems and monuments on the back. Minor changes followed: In 1963, ``In God We Trust'' was added to all currency; in 1990, security threads (see box below) and microprinting (see box) were introduced. The new notes will cost slightly under 5 cents to produce, a penny more than the most recent series of notes.

The Treasury says the new designs will have built-in elasticity for future modifications. Changes will happen more frequently because technology is advancing faster. ``We're more in an era now where we will have to change on a periodic basis.... We can try to keep [currency] state-of-the-art,'' the Treasury says.

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