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Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

10 Design Facts About U.S. Bills

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

We've spent a lot of time combing through information about U.S. paper currency recently and in doing so, turned over some fascinating tidbits about the design efforts involved in giving money its lasting look. Here are a handful of our favorites. 

1. WHAT'S WITH ALL THE WHITE MEN? 

The portraits on United States paper currency—as selected by the Secretary of the Treasury—were adopted in 1929 when the size of the notes was reduced (although they were modified to improve security against counterfeiting starting in 1996). It was determined that portraits of Presidents of the United States were a logical choice, because they had a more permanent familiarity in the minds of the public than any others. That decision was somewhat altered, however, with the inclusion of three men: Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Secretary of the Treasury; Salmon P. Chase, who was Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War; and founding father Benjamin Franklin.

2. AND HOW ABOUT ALL THE DECEASED?

Law prohibits portraits of living persons from appearing on Government Securities. Each bill features a portrait of an important historical figure on the obverse, with a vignette of a building or monument on the reverse. The historical figure tends to have a thematic connection to the monument/building chosen.

3. THE BILLS FEATURE REPEAT ARTISTS.

The engravings on the back of the $2 bill (a scene of the Declaration of Independence signing) and front of the $10 bill (a portrait of Alexander Hamilton) are both based on paintings by John Trumbull. The portrait of Jefferson on the $2 bill and the portrait of George Washington on the $1 bill are both based on paintings by Gilbert Stuart.

4. ALL THE PORTRAITS FACE THE SAME WAY, SAVE ONE.

The portrait of Hamilton on the $10 bill faces left, though the portrait on every other bill faces right. The only explanation for this seems to be that the depiction on the bills is lifted directly from original portraits. Guess all the Founding Fathers had the same good side.

Graphic by Chloe Effron

5. HAMILTON WILL REMAIN ON THE UPCOMING REDESIGNED $10 BILL.

A fact which probably has John Adams rolling over in his grave. Adams was not a Hamilton fan. In an 1805 letter to portrait artist John Trumbull, he wrote, “Washington once said to me, that Hamilton was ‘a proud Spirited little Animal, as ever existed.’ Such he was in truth: yet Washington always lived in terror of him. I saw it, and was determined that I would not. I knew his talents and was determined to do him ample justice, but no more.”

6. THE $2 BILL HAS STAYING POWER.

The Charles Burt engraving of Thomas Jefferson (based on Stuart’s portrait) has appeared on $2 bills featuring Jefferson since the 1869 series. Jefferson sat for Stuart three separate times from 1800 to 1805. For the record, while $2 bills seem like a rarity, they are still printed, though not every year. Thirty-two million of them will be printed in 2015 though, so you might see more of them than usual next year. The Fed estimates that about 1.1 billion are in circulation now.

7. PRESIDENT JACKSON HATED PAPER MONEY.

President Andrew Jackson appears on the $20 bill, which is pretty ironic, because the man was hugely opposed to paper money. In his farewell address on March 4, 1837, Jackson said: “The paper system being founded on public confidence and having of itself no intrinsic value, it is liable to great and sudden fluctuations, thereby rendering property insecure and the wages of labor unsteady and uncertain.”

8. THE $50 HAS A SURPRISING EASTER EGG.

On the back of the $50 bill is a view of the United States Capitol, which might seem like a scene that doesn’t have any particular connection to the person on the front—Ulysses S. Grant. In fact, the Ulysses S. Grant monument stands in front of the Capitol building, and while it’s not pictured in the vignette, the monument sits at about the location where one would need to be standing to get the view of the Capitol depicted on the bill.

9. THE NEW $100 WAS INSPIRED BY ARTISTS.

Brian Thompson, a banknote designer at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, was the lead designer for the new $100. He says the bill’s design was influenced by M.C. Escher and Georgia O’Keeffe. Surely Franklin—a printer himself—would have appreciated the work that goes into the bill, if not the sources of inspiration.

10. THE LIBERTY BELL WASN'T ALWAYS NAMED THAT.

The $100 bill includes an image of the Liberty Bell on the reverse, though it did not become popularly known as the Liberty Bell until the 19th century. So while Franklin might not have known it as such, it did hang in the Pennsylvania State House beginning in the 1750s. In 1755, Franklin referred to the bell in writing to a friend: “Adieu, the Bell rings, and I must go among the Grave ones and talk Politicks.”

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The Force Field Cloak
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Design
This Glowing Blanket Is Designed to Ease Kids' Fear of the Dark
The Force Field Cloak
The Force Field Cloak

Many kids have a security blanket they bring to bed with them every night, but sometimes, a regular blankie is no match for the monsters that invade their imaginations once the lights are off. Now there’s a glow-in-the-dark blanket designed to make children feel safer in bed, no night light required.

Dubbed the Force Field Cloak, the fleece blanket comes in several colorful, glowing patterns that remain invisible during the day. At night, you leave the blanket under a bright light for about 10 minutes, then the shining design will reveal itself in the dark. The glow lasts 8 to 10 hours, just long enough to get a child through the night.

Inventor Terry Sachetti was inspired to create the blanket by his own experiences struggling with scary nighttime thoughts as a kid. "I remember when I was young and afraid of the dark. I would lie in my bed at night, and my imagination would start getting the best of me," he writes on the product's Kickstarter page. "I would start thinking that someone or something was going to grab my foot that was hanging over the side of the bed. When that happened, I would put my foot back under my blanket where I knew I was safe. Nothing could get me under my blanket. No boogiemen, no aliens, no monsters under my bed, nothing. Sound familiar?"

The Force Field Cloak, which has already surpassed its funding goals on both Indiegogo and Kickstarter, takes the comfort of a blanket to the next level. The glowing, non-toxic ink decorating the material acts as a gentle night light that kids can wrap around their whole body. The result, the team claims, is a secure feeling that quiets those thoughts about bad guys hiding in the shadows.

To pre-order a Force Field Cloak, you can pledge $36 or more to the product’s Indiegogo campaign. It is expected to start shipping in January 2018.

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Pantone
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Design
Pantone Names 'Ultra Violet' 2018's Color of the Year
Pantone
Pantone

Time to retire your green apparel inspired by 2017’s color of the year: The color experts at Pantone have chosen a new shade to represent 2018. As The New York Times reports, trend followers can expect to see Ultra Violet popping up on runways in coming months.

The decision was made after Pantone scattered a team around the world to search current street styles, high fashion, art, and popular travel destinations for the up-and-coming “it” color. The brand describes the winner, PANTONE 18-3838, as “a dramatically provocative and thoughtful purple shade.”

Fashion plays a large part in the selection of the color of the year, but Pantone also considers the broader socio-political atmosphere. Some may see Ultra Violet as a nod to our stormy political climate, but the company’s announcement cast it in a more optimistic light.

“Complex and contemplative, Ultra Violet suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries beyond where we are now,” it reads. “The vast and limitless night sky is symbolic of what is possible and continues to inspire the desire to pursue a world beyond our own.”

The color is associated with some of music’s greatest icons, like David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright also had a special attachment to the color and wore it when he was in need of creative inspiration. When it’s not sparking artistic thinking, purple is sometimes used to promote mindfulness in mediation spaces. So if you’re feeling stressed about whatever the new year holds, stare at the hue above for a few seconds and see if it doesn’t calm you down.

[h/t The New York Times]

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