Reinventing the $5
Stop the presses!! There must be some kind of mistake. The new
five-spots are coming out Wednesday, but who's that fool on the
bill and what has he done with Abe Lincoln?!?
Relax, I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for all of
this. No reason to be alarmed. Abe is perfectly safe. In fact, as
you'll soon see, he's looking sharper than ever. He's still got
that wise presidential twinkle in his eye, he parts his hair just
the same as always, and his familiar right ear is even bigger than
just that the boys down at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
wanted our 16th president to look his absolute best for the big
May 24 debut of the redesigned $5, so they sent the fancy new Lincoln
portrait engraving out for a real thorough polishing job.
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers needed somebody
to stand in and do some of the promotional work that, quite frankly,
someone as important and dignified as Mr. Lincoln should not be
I mean, someone has got to tell the public about all the state-of-the-art
security features on the new fives and tens -- the watermarks, the
delicate microprinting, the contemporary gangland graffiti spraypainted
on the Lincoln Memorial.
And since I had done such a good job helping out with the introduction
of the new $20 back in August of '98, my pals down in D.C. shipped
me an exquisitely etched invitation to pitch in again. Naturally,
I was eager to oblige.
First, I feel it is imperative to debunk certain rumors about the
new $5. Abe Lincoln will NOT be wearing Bolle wraparound sunglasses
(thank God) and, despite the overwhelming preference of several
focus groups, he will NOT be sporting his trademark stovepipe hat.
Our U.S. currency is simply not tall enough to accommodate Lincoln's
prodigious and distinctive headgear.
At first glance, the most obvious difference in the new fives and
tens is that the faces of Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton -- like
Michael Jackson on the $20 and Aretha "Ben" Franklin on
the $100 -- appear gigantic compared to the old bills.
The Treasury states that the enlarged portrait of President Abraham
Lincoln is easier to recognize. This is good because I've often
heard people mistaking him for folks like Buddy Ebsen, Janet Reno
and Sammy Davis Jr.
this story to
The Lincoln Memorial will still appear on the reverse side of the
bill, but this time instead of sitting in that big armchair way
up amid those pillars, Lincoln will be out front tossing a baseball
with myself and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.
But the really interesting part is the high-tech, anti-counterfeiting
measures that our government has dreamed up to deter treasonous
lowlifes from running off batches of $20s on the laser printer.
To stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters -- including the notorious
"El Marko" magic marker syndicate -- the new $5 will also
1. A polymer security thread embedded vertically in the bill that
glows with the words Keep away from heat sources when held next
to a bright light or acetylene torch.
2. An eight-dimensional hologram of Lincoln's left thumbprint.
3. Strategically placed slivers of uranium-236 that radiate and
crackle when held near an ordinary household Geiger counter -- one
in Lincoln's left eyebrow, and one just under the E. in E. Pluribus
4. An unidentified brownish smudge thought to have been caused
by a crack-smoking pressman at the U.S. Mint.
5. Microprinting: Running around the edges of the portraits oval
frame, in words so tiny they can only be viewed through a powerful
electron microscope, is the phrase "Try replicating THIS, you
6. There is even a watermark of John Wilkes Booth being tarred
and feathered by a mob of angry Whigs that appears when the bill
is immersed in Guiness Stout and then held in front of a total eclipse
of the sun.
"The new security features and an informed public who knows
who how to use them is our best and first line of defense against
counterfeiting," said Treasury Secretary Summers. Larry cautions
cash-handlers that any bill featuring a picture of Puff Daddy or
Ted Kaczynski, or one that has the numeral "1" scratched
out and "5" written over it in pencil, may be counterfeit.
To help familiarize the American public with the new currency,
the Treasury Department will be launching an extensive educational
campaign with public-service ads showing Al Gore and George W. Bush
handing out freshly minted $5s and $10s to potential supporters.
Several major retailers are also getting involved.
7-Eleven, in each of its 5,645 U.S. stores, will be selling the
new fives at a "special introductory price" of only $6.99
for the May 24 launch.
Ace Hardware stores across the country are posting point-of sale
displays featuring a smiling Elian Gonzalez receiving a crisp new
American $5 for his allowance. Other corporate partners include
McDonalds, Burger King, Microsoft, Lincoln Cash Services, Lincoln-Mercury
and Lincoln Logging Co.
To help offset the governments cost of printing the new bills,
the microprinting feature will also be used to emblazon the words
"Nike" and "Coke" onto the facade of the Lincoln
Memorial, and to paste the slogan "Drink Milk" across
Abe's upper lip.
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