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Redesigning the $100 Note Transcript

April 2010

Moderator: Welcome to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Financial Update Focus podcast. The redesigned $100 note made its first public appearance on April 21. During the collaborative design process, the Federal Reserve Board works with the U.S. Treasury, its Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the U.S. Secret Service to make recommendations to the Secretary of the Treasury for the designs of Federal Reserve notes. The designs incorporate security features that are difficult to counterfeit but still easy for the public to use. Today, we'll be speaking with Brian Thompson, a banknote designer at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. He'll be speaking about the redesigned $100 note as well as the art of currency design. Thanks for joining us today, Brian.

Brian Thompson: Thank you.

Moderator: Brian, can you describe some of the anticounterfeiting measures that have been incorporated into the redesign of the $100 note?

Thompson: The most prominent feature is the 6mm 3-D security ribbon, and the bell icon that moves in a switch with the 100, so when you actually move the note the icon switches from the bell to the 100, which gives a 3-D effect.

Moderator: Right. And, are there other anticounterfeiting measures that are new to this note that have not been in previous redesigns?

Thompson: Yeah, the other one that is specific is the Bell in the Inkwell, where the color changes; as you shift it, it turns from a copper to a green.

Moderator: Right. Brian, would you walk me through the stages of a currency redesign? How are the approaches you used devised, and do you produce a number of proposed redesigns that get dwindled down to the one that people eventually see?

Thompson: Yes. We normally do multiple different designs in the design stage, and it was like 39 different versions before the final. And a lot of them depicted security features and color and line-weights and all kinds of different things that we utilize in the banknote for security reasons and design, and just meshing the two worlds together.

Moderator: That sounds like it must have been a rather time-consuming process. When was this particular redesign process begun?

Thompson: It actually began right after we released the 1996 series of the hundred. We began working on it right afterwards.

Moderator: How has the technology used in the actual rendering changed? Once, all this work was hand-rendered; how much hand-rendering takes place today?

Thompson: There's a lot of hand-rendering that takes place. There's a lot of conceptual sketches that we utilize just to try to get form and fashion, and how different features will fit in the banknote. And we use that data to input different things for layout.

Moderator: Right.

Thompson: So we still utilize a lot of handwork. We still do pen and ink. We still use washes to color different things and do gouache patterns; still utilize a lot of the fundamental art skills to design.

Moderator: Something as iconic as Franklin's portrait, how old is that portrait, or was that newly rendered for this redesign?

Thompson: We made it a little larger, but the same portrait has been used for like 80 years.

Moderator: I see. In redesigning the $100 note, what were some of the opportunities you saw to enhance it visually, and what were some of the challenges you encountered that you perhaps didn't foresee?


Thompson: Well, the one thing was inputting... the 3-D security ribbon was one of the bigger challenges, and just making sure we had space for our design balance, to really make sure it accented the banknote instead of causing an eyesore to the banknote. To place that in there to make it a balanced, unified note was the tough thing, knowing where to position it where it didn't obscure different things.

Moderator: Brian, I'd like to talk about the artistry behind currency design, not just the technological advances. For example, what has changed on currency design over the years, artistically?

Thompson: Artistically, we still use a lot of intaglio measures because we feel that that's also a security feature in itself. But we also intertwine it with a lot of color and color balance and making sure we have a focal point on the design, such as the portrait or the 3-D security ribbon. And that's one thing most countries are doing now, is having a focal point on security features or the actual main subject matter of the banknote.

Moderator: Right. You touched on other nations' currency, and other nations have had multi-hued currency for a while now, are there any specific currencies that you, as a currency designer, look at with admiration for its design and artistic approach?

Thompson: Yeah, I've actually become very fond of the South African note, the Botswana note. I like the way the Denmark note actually has dealt with their design. They had some different design challenges and how they actually solved them. It was a lot of different things that I liked about that note, the Denmark note, the Botswana note. The Australian note I really like because of all the color and the way they layer their different subject matter.

Moderator: Interesting. Brian, what is the primary challenge in marrying the technological demands with the artistry of currency design?

Thompson: Well, most things that are technologically advanced have space parameters, and to balance the two is the most difficult part. And to intertwine it where it looks like a piece of artwork and not just something that has a bunch of security features on it is the biggest challenge. And my job is to make it look simple and make it look beautiful at the same time while being secure.

Moderator: Right. Well, I think this is a great example of the successful marriage of those elements. Brian, my last question to you: Currency design is an art unto itself, and yet it is very unlike almost any other kind of design work. Can you talk about the thought process involved in achieving a new look without losing the qualities that make U.S. currency so readily identifiable and unique?

Thompson: The one thing that I have to keep in mind is to make sure the aesthetical value of American currency is established in the design, which is mainly the portrait and the different laid borders and patterns. And also having subject matter that intertwines, or interlinks, who that portrait is, almost telling a story by using different elements that depict a story of what this note is about, and who this note is about.

Moderator: Right. Brian, thank you for your time and for sharing your thoughts with us about this very interesting subject.

Thompson: Thank you.

Moderator: At this point, we'd like to mention that when the new design $100 note is issued on Feb. 10, 2011, the approximately 6.5 billion older design $100s already in circulation will remain legal tender. U.S. currency users should know that they will not have to trade in their older design $100 notes when the new ones begin circulating.

We've been speaking today with Brian Thompson, a banknote designer at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. This concludes our Financial Update Focus podcast on the redesigned $100 note. For more information, please see the first quarter 2010 edition of Financial Update. On our Web site, www.frbatlanta.org, you can read more about the redesigned $100 note. Thanks for listening, and please return for more podcasts. If you have comments, please e-mail us at podcast@frbatlanta.org.