Visualized: The Security Features of American Money
Visualized: The Security Features of American Money
In 1739, Benjamin Franklin sought to tackle the issue of counterfeit money in America, using a printing press and leaves to create unique raised patterns on the colonial notes.
Almost 300 years later, Benjamin Franklin is the face of the U.S. $100 bill, and it is protected by a myriad of security features including secret images, special ink, hidden watermarks, and magnetic signatures, among others.
In this visual, we’ve broken down the $100 bill to showcase the anatomy of American currency.
The Makeup of American Money
There are 6 key features that identify real bills and protect the falsification of American money.
① Serial Numbers & EURion Constellation
The most basic form of security on an $100 bill is the serial number. Every bill has a unique number to record data on its production and keep track of how many individual bills are in circulation.
The EURion constellation is star-like grouping of yellow rings near the serial number. It is only detectable by imaging software.
② Color Changing Ink
This ink changes color at different angles thanks to small metallic flakes within the ink itself. The $100 bill, like all other paper bills in the U.S., has its value denoted in color changing ink on the bottom right-hand corner; unlike other bills, it also features a liberty bell image using the ink.
Microprinting allows for verifiable images that cannot be scanned by photocopiers or seen by the naked eye. The $100 bill has phrases like “USA 100” written invisibly in multiple places.
④ Intaglio Printing
Rather than regular ink pressed onto the paper, intaglio printing uses magnetic ink and every different bill value has a unique magnetic signature.
⑤ Security Threads & 3D Ribbons
The security thread is a clear, embedded, vertical thread running through the bill. It can only be seen under UV light, contains microprinted text specifying the bill’s value, and on each different bill value it glows a unique color.
Additionally, 3D ribbons are placed in the center of $100 bills with a pattern that slightly changes as it moves.
⑥ Paper, Fibers, & Watermarks
Because American money is made of cotton and linen, blue and red cloth fibers are woven into the material as another identifying feature. Finally, watermarks are found on most bills and can only be detected by light passing through the bill.
The Relevance of Cash
Here’s a look at the total number of each paper bill that is physically in circulation in the U.S.:
|Physical Bill||Billions of notes (2021)|
Interestingly, a number of $500-$10,000 dollar bills are in someone’s pockets. And while they are not issued anymore, the Fed still recognizes the originals of these bills that were legally put into circulation in the past.
Additionally, there is fake money passing hands in the U.S. economy. Being the most widely-accepted currency in the world, it’s no wonder many try to falsely replicate American money. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, there are approximately $70 million in counterfeit bills currently circulating in the country.
Finally, a natural question arises: how many people still use cash anyways?
Well, a study from Pew Research Center found that it while it is a dwindling share of the population, around 58% of people still use cash for some to all of their weekly purchases, down from 70% in 2018 and 75% in 2015.
De-Dollarization: Countries Seeking Alternatives to the U.S. Dollar
The U.S. dollar is the dominant currency in the global financial system, but some countries are following the trend of de-dollarization.
De-Dollarization: Countries Seeking Alternatives to U.S. Dollar
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The U.S. dollar has dominated global trade and capital flows over many decades.
However, many nations are looking for alternatives to the greenback to reduce their dependence on the United States.
This graphic catalogs the rise of the U.S. dollar as the dominant international reserve currency, and the recent efforts by various nations to de-dollarize and reduce their dependence on the U.S. financial system.
The Dollar Dominance
The United States became, almost overnight, the leading financial power after World War I. The country entered the war only in 1917 and emerged far stronger than its European counterparts.
As a result, the dollar began to displace the pound sterling as the international reserve currency and the U.S. also became a significant recipient of wartime gold inflows.
The dollar then gained a greater role in 1944, when 44 countries signed the Bretton Woods Agreement, creating a collective international currency exchange regime pegged to the U.S. dollar which was, in turn, pegged to the price of gold.
By the late 1960s, European and Japanese exports became more competitive with U.S. exports. There was a large supply of dollars around the world, making it difficult to back dollars with gold. President Nixon ceased the direct convertibility of U.S. dollars to gold in 1971. This ended both the gold standard and the limit on the amount of currency that could be printed.
Although it has remained the international reserve currency, the U.S. dollar has increasingly lost its purchasing power since then.
Russia and China’s Steps Towards De-Dollarization
Concerned about America’s dominance over the global financial system and the country’s ability to ‘weaponize’ it, other nations have been testing alternatives to reduce the dollar’s hegemony.
As the United States and other Western nations imposed economic sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow and the Chinese government have been teaming up to reduce reliance on the dollar and to establish cooperation between their financial systems.
Since the invasion in 2022, the ruble-yuan trade has increased eighty-fold. Russia and Iran are also working together to launch a cryptocurrency backed by gold, according to Russian news agency Vedmosti.
In addition, central banks (especially Russia’s and China’s) have bought gold at the fastest pace since 1967 as countries move to diversify their reserves away from the dollar.
How Other Countries are Reducing Dollar Dependence
De-dollarization it’s a theme in other parts of the world:
- In recent months, Brazil and Argentina have discussed the creation of a common currency for the two largest economies in South America.
- In a conference in Singapore in January, multiple former Southeast Asian officials spoke about de-dollarization efforts underway.
- The UAE and India are in talks to use rupees to trade non-oil commodities in a shift away from the dollar, according to Reuters.
- For the first time in 48 years, Saudi Arabia said that the oil-rich nation is open to trading in currencies besides the U.S. dollar.
Despite these movements, few expect to see the end of the dollar’s global sovereign status anytime soon. Currently, central banks still hold about 60% of their foreign exchange reserves in dollars.
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