WORDS | Amelia van der Rijt
Unlike the US, Australia’s money is different colours and sizes. This helps children learn, the visually impaired and just about everyone after a couple of drinks to keep track of their dosh. Soon, our money is going to change. Don’t worry, a pineapple will still be a pineapple ($50) and the illusive hundgy ($100) will still be green but more bright and more difficult to counterfeit. So why is America’s money all the same and made of paper? Is it consistency or Illuminati?
Though many people have wondered, we have no idea why the first printers of the American banknote decided upon the colour green. What we do know is that in 1929, when paper money was made physically smaller, it was decided that green should remain the colour of printed money for a number of reasons.Primarily, the reasons for keeping the colour were practical. For example, the exact shade was already available in a large quantity. Further, according to the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing, by 1929 green was associated with the strength and credibility of the Government. There was no one body printing money at the time, so all notes were green for uniformity’s sake. But importantly, the particular pigment was resistant to physical and chemical changes, and therefore made counterfeiting difficult.
While the greenback has remained largely unchanged since its inception, Australian currency, on the other hand, has undergone frequent changes for a number of reasons. For the period directly following colonisation, bartering was generally used in place of any official currency – after all, the convicts did not need to be paid for their work. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade maintains that rum was a popular bartering tool.
After Federation in 1901, Australia became responsible for its own currency, though the Commonwealth did not introduce its own coins until 1910. The first Australian notes were released in 1913, though the currency still conformed to the British system, also known as the sterling system.
Fifty years later, in 1966, the decimal system was introduced and the currency was forever changed. Soon after the switch from the sterling system, mass counterfeiting of the new ten dollar note was detected (we are descendants of convicts remember). Soon it was a challenge to find a shop or person who would accept a ten dollar note. It became important to develop banknotes which more strongly resisted counterfeiting attempts, and thus in 1988 we were the first country in the world to design and introduce banknotes made of polymer, able to withstand water and difficult to tear.
Australian banknotes incorporate a wide variety of security features to prevent counterfeiting. So how can you tell if a note is a fake? When you hold a note up to the light, a number of features should become visible, including the Australian coat of arms near the numeric value of the note, and a seven pointed star which can be found in diamond shaped patterns within a circle on either side of the note. The clear window should be resistant to scratching, and when held up to the light a sort of watermark within the window should display the value of the note (though the ten dollar note simply has a wave pattern).
The physical print of the note can also help with detection of counterfeits. The dark print on a note is actually raised, so you should be able to feel whether the note is genuine. The quality of the print should also be sharp and defined. The best place to check this is the microprint behind the portraits. And finally, if you have an ultra violet light handy, the serial number should fluoresce, and a patch on every note (except the ten dollar note) should illuminate the note’s value. Note: anymore patches than that and you should be putting that note away and washing your hands, stat.
According to the Reserve Bank of Australia, these measures ensure that on average there are just 8 counterfeited notes per million in Australia. Compare this to the average of over one hundred counterfeited notes per million in the United Kingdom. But recently, a rise in the rate of counterfeiting has been detected, and as a result the Reserve Bank has announced that it will be updating security features, and introducing a new banknote design.
Project ‘New Generation Banknote’ aims to give our notes a more ‘youthful’ and ‘energetic’ design, and incorporate new security features. These new features have not yet been revealed to the public, though we do have some idea what the new notes will look like. The size will remain the same as the current bank notes, as will the colours (though they will be quite a bit brighter!) The people featured on the notes will also remain the same, though different portraits will be used. There was some consideration given to the idea that Queen Elizabeth II should be removed from the five dollar note in favour of an Australian such as Henry Parkes or Paul Hogan (kidding on the last one), but this idea appears to have been abandoned.
Australia is not the only country to consider updating its banknotes in recent years. Both Canada and Britain have decided to make the switch to polymer notes, and are currently effecting these changes. Britain intends to introduce a new five pound note, featuring Winston Churchillin 2016, followed the next year by a ten pound note featuring Jane Austen. In Canada, polymer notes have just been rolled out in order to reduce the enormous counterfeiting rate of 470 fake notes per million.
Though the United States has also continued to update its currency, particularly since 1996, it appears that US bank notes will continue to be printed on paper. Though new security features have slowly been added and notes now have a slight colouring, they retain the traditional greenback look. Even the new $100 note, first unveiled in 2010, follows in the footsteps of its forebears.
Australia’s money continues to change and adapt to different needs while the US remains traditional with its all green, paper notes. Why the US remains resilient to this change is a question perhaps only Beyoncé knows the answer to.