New $100 bill

Last month, when the Treasury Department announced that it was revamping the $100 bill yet again to curtail counterfeiters, the Associated Press said that the new design — which employs a new “moving” microprint technology — was “like something straight out of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

To hype the new bill, the Treasury set up a website ( featuring a clock counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds to its unveiling. That clock just ran down to zero, with Treasury officials unveiling the new bill at a news conference at  10:15 a.m. ET Wednesday. While Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke were on hand for the occasion, there was thankfully no sign of Lord Voldemort.

And the Treasury Department released video of the new note:

“This note incorporates the best technology available to ensure we’re staying ahead of counterfeiters,” Geithner said at the unveiling ceremony.

The makeover is Treasury’s latest bid to keep a step ahead of counterfeiters. Officials are especially concerned with the $100 bill — the favorite target of counterfeiters, who continually upgrade their tech arsenals with new color-copying and other software.

One particularly high-quality type of counterfeit $100 bill — dubbed the “Superdollar” because it’s the product of technology believed to be superior to that used in producing the real thing — has been thwarting Treasury enforcers for more than a decade now.

No one knows the true origins of the Superdollar — such mysteries are, after all, the hallmark of successful counterfeiting.  In 2005, the U.S. government accused the North Korean government of forging the phony bill, though some believed that accusation to be founded on “shaky evidence.” Pop-conspiracy theories swirl wildly around other candidates — including, but by no means limited to, the Iranian government, Chinese or Russian organized crime outfits, and the CIA.

According to a 2006 New York Times Magazine piece by Stephen Mihm, the government’s failure to crack the Superdollar case prompted a 1996 redesign the $100 bill, its first since 1928. That version of the bill featured watermarks as its chief anti-counterfeiting tool. The new bill goes way beyond that, featuring a security thread decades in development: the microprinted mobile image that has inspired all the Harry Potter chatter. When the bill is moved side to side, the image on the bill appears to move up and down, and when it’s moved up and down, the image appears to move side to side.

The new bill will go into circulation next year. Already in circulation: new designs for the $5, $10, $20, and $50 bills. Apparently, for some U.S. currency users, it’s still not all about the Benjamins.

Posted in Finance.

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