Evolution of Hamilton & Benjamin

Posted on 5/17/2016

In recent years, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has taken necessary action towards preventing counterfeiting by adding color and security features to US banknotes.

Something that is constantly catching my attention in US modern paper money is the evolution and beauty we’re starting to see. The sheer amount of world paper money that comes through PMG, abundant with beautiful color and artwork, is enough for one to only dream we bring back something as awe-inspiring as our 1896 Educational Notes. Today we’ll be looking at the major design changes of the modern $10 and $100 Federal Reserve Notes as well as some of their security features.

$10 1950 FRN Cleveland, Star Note, PMG Graded 65 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Issued: 1929 - 1999
Series: 1928 - 1995
Click image to enlarge.

$10 1999 FRN Cleveland, Star Note, PMG Graded 67 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
Issued: 2000 - 2006
Series: 1999 - 2003
Click image to enlarge.

$10 2009 FRN Richmond, Solid #2's, PMG Graded 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Issued: 2006 - Present
Series: 2004A - 2009
Click image to enlarge.

You can see the evolution of the US $10 Federal Reserve Notes, each ascending design introducing more security features and color. The shift in gears in recent years was undeniably necessary not only to halt counterfeiters but also for a new aesthetically pleasing banknote. It’s nice that we are starting to see something other than black, white, and green.

The more recent Federal Reserve Note design is particularly felicitous for where we are with technology in 2016. The fiery-red torch on the right of Hamilton’s bust, color-shifting ink (better known as Optical Variable Ink) of “10” on the bottom right, and the sun-kissed color the note brings are aesthetically desirable and essential security devices. The note also features symbols of freedom: the Statue of Liberty’s torch and We the People from the Constitution of the United States of America. These images were incorporated into the design to portray the United States as a source of stability and freedom. This is easily my favorite US modern banknote and I’m constantly seeing it cross my desk.

$10 Optical Variable Ink Close Up
Click image to enlarge.

If you aren’t interested in hunting down each individual design, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) offers a $10 Generations Set that includes Series 1995, 2001, and 2009, with matching low serial numbers. This set is part of my inspiration towards this article, as I’ve seen it submitted quite often. If you get your Generations Set encapsulated by PMG you receive the pedigree “BEP [Year] $10 Generations Set” at no charge. There is also no charge for the respective pedigrees for other special BEP issues.

$100 1928 FRN Chicago, PMG Graded 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Issued: 1929 - 1995
Series: 1928 - 1993
Click image to enlarge.

$100 1996 FRN New York, PMG Graded 69 Superb Gem Unc EPQ
Issued: 1996 - 2012
Series: 1996 - 2006A
Click image to enlarge.

$100 2009A FRN New York, Solid #1's, PMG Graded 35 Choice Very Fine EPQ
Issued: 2013 - Present
Series: 2009A
Click image to enlarge.

Like the $10, the $100 has also been redesigned over the years. Although there were multiple smaller design changes between 1928 and 1995, the time-lined images above stand out the most. I appreciate the larger design changes as they are easily recognizable and have more prominent and sophisticated security features. The new 2009A Series is definitely a note that has grown on me and whenever I see it, I can truly appreciate its design. The BEP continues to expand its horizons with security features and aesthetics, in turn instilling confidence within the public.

As seen with the new $10 FRN, the $100 also has some impressive security features. What stands out most is the bold, blue 3-D security thread running vertically right of Benjamin’s bust. This security feature caused the BEP a lot of problems. 1.1 billion notes were printed and unusable due to a flaw that folded the note which caused an error. Although there were some hiccups with production of the security thread, I think it looks great and is a necessary security feature. A security thread of this caliber is significantly more difficult to duplicate than an internal, singular security thread inside a banknote. This note also has an OVI on the bottom right “100.” I’ve had the privilege to see a note with fake OVI during a Joe Boling presentation. At first glance, the security feature looks fine. Taking a second look under magnification or different angles the security feature doesn’t look right at all. Unlike genuine, counterfeit OVI doesn’t change colors.

$100 Optical Variable Ink Close Up
Click image to enlarge.

Although the BEP currently doesn’t have an Evolution or Generations set for the $100, they do have a 2009A Sheet of 4, 8, and 16 that you can pick up here. PMG does encapsulate Sheets with the pedigree “Sheet of X” at no additional charge. If you want different designs of the $100 you’ll have to do a little hunting.

Since I’ve been here at PMG, I’ve seen some phenomenal watermarks on banknotes from around the world. Unfortunately, 2009A is not one of them. Not to dwell on the negative, but next time you’re in possession of a 2009A, hold it up to the light and look at the watermark. Considering the amount of time, effort, and money put into the production of this banknote, they really skimped out here. The watermark is unsightly.

Watermark: Friedberg #2187-H*
Click image to enlarge.

Some of my absolute favorite watermarks come from Japanese banknotes. Next time you’re at a convention or local coin/currency shop and you come across a Japanese note, make sure to hold it up to the light and check out the amount of detail they’ve put into their watermarks.

Watermark: Japan, Pick# 98
Click image to enlarge.

Over the years we’ve seen the evolution of our banknotes. In recent years, the BEP has stepped up and started taking necessary actions towards halting counterfeiters as well as instilling confidence within the public. I love seeing how far we’ve come with our modern banknotes. If you’re into the evolutions like me, a set should be within every collector’s budget. The 2004A and 2009A Series really give me hope that we’ll continue seeing added color, security features and more in the future.


PMG is an independent member of the Certified Collectibles Group (CCG).

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