Posts Tagged ‘Treasury Department’

The Story of Change- No not President Obama, I’m talking about money here!

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

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The story of American money started more than three centuries ago. Before this, settlers mostly bartered goods for goods. Crops like tobacco and corn and pork and butter were widely used. Learning from the Native Americans who used stringed clamshell beads, or wampum, European colonists adopted the wampum among trades with the Native Americans and then, amongst themselves.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony contracted John Hull to begin minting coins. Hull set up a mint in Boston and began producing “NE” (New England) coins in 1652. The NE coins were very easy to counterfeit, only having NE on one side and XII on the other. The coin was redesigned from 1667-1682. Eventually as more and more people came to the New World and brought their money with them, the settlers and colonists relied on foreign money for buying and selling. Money from Europe, Mexico and South America could be found at any given time. These coins mixed in with the NE coins and wampum and were all used for purchasing, barter and trade.

Early in the 18th century, a large amount of copper coins were imported from England and Ireland for the purpose of making more coins for the colonies. In 1776, dollar-sized coins were produced with a sundial and the inscription “Mind Your Business” on the front and “American Congress We Are One” on the back. These pieces were struck in three different metals; those struck in pewter are scarce or rare, while the silver and brass examples as extremely rare. The Articles of Confederation, adopted on July 9, 1778, gave Congress the ability to place the value on the coins that were struck by each state. At that time, the states each had the right to strike their own coins, there was just no fluidity in their values until the Articles came about.

Finally in 1792 the U.S. Mint was established by Congress. The U.S. Mint makes all U.S. Coins and became an operating bureau of the Treasury Department in 1873. To this day, U.S. coins typically have a mint mark showing which mint it was produced by. The Philadelphia Mint has been the longest in continuous operation, since 1792. The Denver Mint began coin producing in 1906. The newest mints were the West Point, New York, and San Francisco which gained official status in 1988.

From 1965-1968 there were no identifications used to tell where coins were minted. In 1968 the mints resumed putting their initials on the coins. Coins minted in Philadelphia had a P or no letter, Denver has a D, West Point a W and S for San Francisco. To this day, look at your coins and right under the date there should be a letter telling you where that coin was minted and if no letter is present, your coin was minted in Philadelphia!

Coins’ designs and values have changed over the years from the half-penny to silver dollars. The designs will continue to change as society deems it necessary . For now, the coins in your pocket have come a long way to get there because there was a time when there was a lack of United States coins.

The Color of Money: Why is a Greenback Green?

Monday, February 9th, 2009

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greenbackIn 1929, when the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing introduced the small-size note, that we currently use today, green pigment was readily available in large quantities.  The color was relatively resistant to physical and chemical changes, and the color was viewed to be psychologically identified with the security and strength of the United States Government.

More importantly, this newly developed ink had protective qualities that could not be easily “lifted” from the note itself, which had been a favorite technique of counterfeiters in the past.  Since the mid-1800’s, it had been customary to print bills in black, with different slight variants of color.  When photographed, the color variants would show only in black, since early cameras could only photograph in black.  Not to be outdone, the counterfeiter soon discovered that they could remove the colored elements from the Bill, photograph the remaining black ink elements, make copies, and then overprint an imitation of the colored parts on the newly made copies.

A new solution was needed, and was quickly developed. The development, as well as the patent purchase for this ink, was by Tracy R. Edson, who later Founded the American Banknote Company, one of the same firms that produced the first currency used by the United States.

The faces of these early notes that were produced under contract were printed with the newly patented green tinted protective ink.

When printing with oil-base type inks, like the new “patent green,” it is not unusual for the color to show through to the opposite side of the sheet.  Therefore, the backs of early notes were printed in a darker shade of green to make the “strike through” of the tint less obvious.

The transition to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing was gradual, so the backs of the notes produced there during the intervening period were continued to be printed in green for the sake of uniformity.

Once the Bureau was in full-scale production, there was no reason to change the traditional color, and it was only logical that the practice continue.

Thus, the “greenback” was born!

The Bureau currently uses a technique called “Intaglio Printing,” which involves a revolving plate, filled with the grooves containing the design and wording.  These grooves are filled with ink and then wiped clean on the surface.  The paper is forced with approximately 20 tons of pressure onto the plate, picking up the ink contained within the finely recessed lines and grooves, leaving the surface of the newly printed currency with a slightly “raised” feel, while the reverse has a slightly indented feel.

Thanks to new technology introduced in the last few years, the newly redesigned, recently introduced United States Currency features some new splashes of color on the various denominations, using an “Optically Variable Ink” (or OVI).  This ink allows a shift in color variation when held at different angles.

A copy machine, for example, scans a document at ONE FIXED ANGLE, relative to the bill’s angle when placed on the glass, thus not picking up the color shift.

This ink, produced by a Swiss company called SIPCA, is not readily available and thus aids in deferring counterfeiting.

So, the next time you reach in your wallet and pull out a Greenback, you’ll know why it’s green!