The Horrors of Currency Redesigns

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AUTHOR: William Bostwick at Fast Company

LENGTH: 504 words and and 11 illustrations

DEDICATED TO: Problems with American currency

MEANING: Not devaluation of the dollar, but its design

WHAT THE U.S. MINT HAS DONE TO DOLLAR BILLS: Stuffed them with "invisible watermarks and marginalia"

WHAT THEY'VE DONE TO THE NUMBERS: "no drop-shadows, no serifs, no swashes"

WHICH MEANS: "no fun"

HORROR PERPETRATED ON THE $1 COIN: "scrapping Sacagawea for a portrait series of presidents and, for some reason, their wives"

STILL 'MORE WORRISOME': "Title III, which ordered the redesign of the penny"

PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCE: "the penny fell victim to an image series of four cartoony tableaus of Lincoln's life"

PROBLEMS WITH THESE CARTOONS: Making Lincoln "hilariously buff" in one, "disproportionately statuesque" in another, and placing him "in front of the Illinois Capitol Building"

NOTE ON THE ILLINOIS CAPITOL BUILDING: "everyone will mistake [it for] the U.S. Capitol"

OTHER LITTLE-KNOWN PROBLEMS WITH THE REDESIGN: "As a set, the coins look nothing like each other--'United States of America' appears in different type sizes; 'One Cent' in different sizes and arrangements--and individually, they make no sense as a timeline of Lincoln's life."


It gets worse. Last week, the mint unveiled 2010's penny--Lincoln on the front, as usual, and a simple shield on the back. Gone is the Lincoln Memorial, maybe the most emotionally and socially charged building in the country. Gone is the wonderful level of detail (remember when you first discovered the tiny Lincoln statue in between the columns?). Compare it to 27-year-old Matthew Dent's redesign of Britain's coins--the best use of a shield on currency I've seen. Dent's redesign is contemporary but still complex; the coins work alone and as a set. Ours is simplistic and fake-looking. The penny is valueless enough as it is, and a one-dimensional design like this only makes matters worse. With the humble penny now a mess, I'm hoarding my $1 bills.
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