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Honest Abe to get color makeover on the $5 bill

The government said Wednesday it had reversed course and decided to redesign the $5 bill with a splash of color to keep counterfeiters at bay.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Honest Abe is going to be more colorful after all.

The government said Wednesday it had reversed course and decided to redesign the $5 bill with a splash of color to keep counterfeiters at bay.

Originally, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had planned to exempt the $5 bill and Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, from the design makeovers introduced over the past three years for the $50, $20 and $10 bills.

But officials said changed their minds in part so they can respond to a new scam in which counterfeiters are bleaching the ink off $5 notes and then printing counterfeit $100 bills on the bleached paper.

"We have to stay ahead of any threats we see evolving," the director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Larry Felix, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"Currency is a trust medium. Once you lose trust, you can't gain it back," he said.

Felix said the new colors for the $5 bill and other design changes had not been chosen, but probably will resemble the changes made for the other denominations.

Those included introducing pale colors into the background of the bills and adding various features in color, such as an American eagle in blue on the $20 bill and the Statue of Liberty's torch in red on the $10 note.

Felix said Lincoln's portrait will remain on the $5 bill, as will the Lincoln Memorial on the other side, but the presentations of both images may be updated slightly.

Under the timetable, the bureau will settle on a new design for the $5 bill by the fall of 2007 and hope to begin introducing the new notes in the first quarter of 2008.

The announcement of the design change is being made now to provide time for the nation's vending machine industry and transit companies to make the necessary changes in their equipment.

In the case of mass transit agencies, they often need to seek additional funds in their budgets to make the equipment changes that will be needed, requiring more lead-time. Felix said the bureau, which is responsible for printing all U.S. currency, seeks to make sure the changeover occurs with the least amount of disruption.

"Our goal is to have the new currency accepted the first time and every time in any automated transaction," Felix said.

He said there will be an extensive education campaign so that store clerks and bank tellers will be familiar with the new currency when it is introduced.

While the $5 note is getting a makeover, the $1 bill will be left alone. Congress, worried about the impact of the currency changes on small businesses, passed legislation preventing the bureau from altering the $1 bill.

The $100, a favorite target for counterfeiters, is getting a makeover that will include additional security features and should be introduced some time after the new $5 bill goes into circulation in 2008.

The $20 note with an updated Andrew Jackson was introduced in 2004, followed by a new $50 bill in 2004 and the new $10 bill this March.

All three bills retained anti-counterfeiting features that had been introduced in recent years, including a watermark and a plastic thread with the denomination amount woven into the bill.

Because of the efforts to keep upgrading the currency to thwart counterfeiters with more sophisticated copying machines, the rate of counterfeit currency worldwide is less than 1 percent of the genuine U.S. currency in circulation, officials said.