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A Dollar’s Only Worth as Much as it Says it Is

13 March 2008

(or: Why we don’t have counterfiet seven dollar bills)

I was walking to the vending machine yesterday, when I noticed that the numberal “1”s in the corner had the word “one” written on top of them. This seems excessive, I thought, and that led me to count all instances of the denomination on the bill. Sixteen. Yes, I know I will have you all counting now, as no one ever believes me. But there are six on the front, ten on the back, eight each written as numerals and as words. I had trouble fathoming why they were designed like this. I could think up a rationale for displaying the deomination eight (one of every corner of each side to maximize visibility when flipping through a wallet), even ten (add the word once on each side to prevent forgery by altering the numerals, though who today would fall for that?) times, but sixteen?

I just didn’t understand it.

So I decided to do an informal survey. I looked at pictures of other currencies and saw how many times demonations appeared on their banknotes (results below). What I found was that, of the banknotes surveyed none had near as many numbers on it. All but two had no more than half the number of numbers that the dollar bill had. The 100 Russian Rouble note had ten. The only one that had more was the American two dollar bill, with eighteen (more details on that when I go home and look them up). Having the word one appear as many times as the numeral seems also unique to the one dollar bill.

I suppose having the denomination appear so many times on the one dollar bill is to try to prevent confusion, since all U.S. banknotes look rather alike, though that is changing a bit as designs have changed. But they are still rather uniform. The only reason I can think of as to why the two dollar bill has its denomination displayed even more than the one is because some people have such a hard time believeing a two dollar bill exists.

Across the pond, the Euro is a very good example of currency design, at least in a utilitarian sense. Each bill has its denomination prominently displayed, and only in numerals (makes sense, given the language range in the EU), each denomination is also a different size and a different color. It is impossible to mistake one for another.

If you were a currency designer, how would you design a bill? Personally, I would want the denomination to appear on both sides, probably on opposite corners both times, so that makes four. And opposite opposite corners for that matter, so that each corner has the denomination. I would want the denomination to appear in large font at least once, probably on the front, either by enlarging one of the corners, or inserting it elsewhere into the design. I’m on the fence as to whether I’d want the word of the denomination to appear. It seems rather unncessary.


Disclaimer: This is an informal survey done with mostly low quality images. Also, numbers used in security features (including microprint, the waterprints on the higher demoniation U.S. bills, and the security strip on the Euro) are not counted. Neither are Arabic words – I can’t read Arabic.) And if I was really being rigorous, I would compare the dates notes were desgined, if there was any international/imperialistic influence, and make sure that they have a roughly equivelent exchange rate/real value, or even do a comparison between real values.

Currency Denomination Total Front Back Numeral Word
Antartican Dollar 1 4 2 2 2 2
Australian Dollar 10 3 1 2 2 1
Brazillian Reai 10 6 3 3 4 2
Chinese Yuan 10 6 3 3 5 1
Cuban Peso 10 5 3 2 4 1
English Pounds 10 6 3 3 4 2
Egypt Piaste 10 5 2 3 4 1
E.U. Euro 10 7 3 4 7 0
Iraqi Dinar 50 7 4 3 6 1
Israeli Shequalim 20 4 2 2 4 0
Japanese Yen 1000 5 3 2 3 2
Libyan Dinar 1 4 2 2 4 0
Mexican Peso 100 6 3 3 4 2
Moroccan Dirham 20 8 2 5 8 0
Peruvian New Sole 10 6 3 3 4 2
Russian Rouble 100 10 6 4 8 2
South African Rand 20 8 3 5 4 4
Kingdom of Time 1 Second 8 4 4 4 4
U.S. Dollar 1 16 6 10 8 8
U.S. Dollar 2 18
U.S. Dollar 20 11 6 5 8 3

Thanks go to the Bagism table maker and the world currency gallery


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