Money Classic: Redesigning the US Dollar (1986)

Silver is 50 years old! To celebrate, we’ve scoured decades of our print magazines to uncover hidden gems, fascinating stories, and vintage personal finance tips that have (surprisingly) stood the test of time. Throughout 2022, we’ll be sharing our favorite finds in Money Classic, a special limited-edition newsletter that comes out twice a month.

This excerpt, featured in the 13th issue of Money Classic, is taken from a story in our November 1986 edition.

Did you know that in 1896, Martha Washington was featured on a $1 silver certificate, the only woman to adorn an American banknote? Or that US banknotes were once as big and colorful as Italian liras? Or that, as recently as 1901, a buffalo wandered over a $10 Treasury bill? Indeed, the almighty dollar, which only took on its current size in 1929, has undergone multiple permutations over the years. Now it is about to be changed again. A subtle and (currently) unrepeatable metallic filament will soon be added by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to thwart increasingly sophisticated high-tech counterfeiters. So unless you’re producing fake bills in your basement, this little tweak won’t mean anything to you. Yet it made Money editors wonder: why not remake the boring dollar to give a more vivid sense of what the United States thinks of itself today?

With this admittedly playful idea in mind, we invited seven of America’s leading visual tastemakers to rethink the dollar.

“It’s important to establish the modern woman over the currency,” says fashion designer Donna Karan, 38, “and New York represents the environment in which this woman lives.” Karan, whose name has become synonymous with chic Manhattan, designed his dollar with his own image in the place of honor and the New York skyline dominating the front and back of the note. As chief designer of the Anne Klein collection, Karan won the Coty Awards (the fashion industry’s Oscar) in 1977 and 1981. After being elected to the Coty Hall of Fame in 1984, she founded her own company, Donna Karan New York.

Internationally renowned cartoonist, painter and illustrator Ivan Chermayeff, 54, shows us that the purchasing power of the dollar has diminished, but the illusion of grandeur can be maintained — with its dollar stretched above it. He says, “It’s designed to make it feel like you’ve got something really worth a dollar — to take off, light cigars, and leave for tips.” In contrast, its pocket dollar is “shrinked to fit in your wallet or purse and to more accurately reflect its value.”

Angela Cummings, one of America’s greatest jewelry designers, designed a dollar that is an exquisite (not to say expensive) counterfeit deterrent. “Mine is made with 100 diamonds, 13 sapphires and three ounces of 24-karat gold,” she explains. “I wanted to produce a dollar that no one would or could copy.” Cummings designed jewelry, including in unusual shapes, for Tiffany & Co. in New York for 18 years before founding Angela Cummings Inc.

Interior designer Mario Buatta, widely known as the “Prince of Chintz” for his lavish use of lush fabrics, thinks silver “should be made from chintz because it should be washable – but not washed. I think the silver is dirty. Anyway, it will last longer if it’s cloth.” Buatta adds, “The two roses are there because the rose is the national flower. The dog is Rex, President Reagan’s dog, who is there to protect the country.”

Roz Chast, only 31 years old, favorite designer of readers of the new yorker for the past eight years, fosters an annual competition among big money makers to produce a new face on the dollar each year. His candidate and his family, like pure chastical inventions.

Alan Flusser, 41, one of the country’s hottest menswear designers, creates smart clothes – and here, an equally sharp dollar – for the man who’s been out for a traditional yet stylish good time. . “To me,” says Flusser, “money has always represented an opportunity to have fun. To emphasize this, I chose to depict two familiar American icons, George Washington and the Statue of Liberty, in town. adding a feminine image means George no longer foots the bill alone.” Flusser notes that he’s had his own clothes — but not his dollars — custom-made since he was 17.

The oldest contribution – as well as the least likely to ever honor a Treasury note – comes from self-styled graffiti artist Keith Haring, 28, who over the past five years has made a brilliant mark both on the street and in the living room . In his singular vision, the father of our country should be replaced by a Pop Art rodent. “Andy Mouse is a combination of Mickey Mouse and Andy Warhol,” he explains. “You want to put the president on the dollar, and Andy Mouse is the art president.” Beginning with chalk sketches of barking wolves and glowing babies on New York City subway billboards, Haring’s street surrealism now sells for up to $2,000 a drawing.

Scan of an old Money article on the design of the US dollar

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