With Hamilton staying on the $10 bill and Jackson leaving the $20, I thought we could just look back at some related currency design decisions.
Women on Coin and Currency
Having women on our currency is not unusual. They just weren’t real women. Idealized as Greek goddesses, milkmaids or wearing American Indian attire, one scholar said they were “figments of the male imagination.”
Below we have Hebe, goddess of youth (with George Washington).
A woman with “flowing hair” is on the first coin from the U.S. mint. Supposedly an image of what liberty is supposed to look like, here she is (below) as the “flowing hair cent.” The penny (left) was delivered in 1793 and the dime, just before. Her hair was considered rather wild.
Martha Washington was the only real woman to make it to paper currency. As her husband’s facilitator, as a sidekick, as an indirect political participant, she has been described as the prototype of the 19th century power woman.
This is Martha on an 1891 silver certificate:
The Backs of Bills
With the back of the new Hamilton getting a makeover with eminent women, it will look very different from the 1928-1996 version of the rear with the treasury and a car. The car presented a problem. Concerned that the image could represent some free advertising for one brand, the artist at the Bureau of Engraving had to create his own generic design.
The 1928 series of $100 notes depicted Independence Hall in Philadelphia with a clock set at 4:10. No one knows why they selected that hour. (Even when holding the actual bill, to see the time you do need magnification.)
In 1929, I suspect that people started carrying smaller wallets when a new dollar bill was issued. The same size as contemporary currency, the 1928 series dollar was supposed to save money on paper.
Our Bottom Line: Characteristics of Money
A dollar bill is just a rectangle made of cotton (3/4) and linen (1/4). However, we call it money because it has three basic characteristics. 1) It is a medium of exchange. 2) It is a unit of value. 3) It provides a store of value.