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Woman To Share $10 Bill With Alexander Hamilton In 2020


There will be a new face on the $10 bill but not for a few years yet. The Obama administration has announced that Alexander Hamilton will make way for a woman. She'll either replace or share space on the 10 spot with the nation's first treasury secretary. The change is set for 2020, the centennial of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. Now, who that woman will be remains a mystery until the end of the year. All of this got us thinking about the history of who's on our paper currency, so we turned to Matt Wittmann for some answers. He's with the American Numismatic Society. That's an organization that studies coins and currency. And he says the last big change to our paper money was in 1929.

MATT WITTMANN: The big change was we went from a large-size note to a smaller-size note largely to save money on paper. So the Federal Reserve notes issued in 1929 are the series we have today. And the only big change from the earlier Federal Reserve notes was that Jackson got moved from the $10 to the $20 bill, displacing Grover Cleveland, and Alexander Hamilton was placed on the $10 bill.


And who decides whose face gets on our currency? How is that decision made?

WITTMANN: For paper currency, it's more or less at the discretion of the secretary of the treasury. Now, obviously there are parameters. If you did try to do something crazy, I'm sure Congress would intervene. But in 1928 in 1929 when they made this decision, it was just a committee that he put together that made recommendations. And he actually did not use the recommendations. The committee wanted to go with all presidents, but the secretary of the treasury felt that well-known Americans like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton that weren't presidents could also be on the currency.

BLOCK: And there they are still, at least for now.

WITTMANN: Yes, at least for now, right.

BLOCK: I was interested to read about the fact that Martha Washington, wife of George, had her own place on a note or a certificate in the 19th century. What was that about?

WITTMANN: Yes, she was on the $1 silver certificate from 1886 to 1896. And you just have to understand that this is a time when the U.S. government issued a lot more different kinds of money. So there was legal tender, there were national bank notes, there were treasury notes. And so they had a broader cast of characters on these bills. And Martha Washington was chosen and, for a decade, was on the $1 silver certificate.

BLOCK: When you think about likely contenders of the woman who will be on the $10 bill in the end, who do you think leads the pack?

WITTMANN: Well, the candidate I'm backing, if you will, is Amelia Earhart. I think she's an American hero. She's got a broad base of support, which is what you're going to need to be the first woman on a U.S. $10 bill. I think there's a variety of people that could be on there. I know Harriet Tubman would also be a great candidate.

BLOCK: Any regrets about losing Alexander Hamilton if in fact he's bumped entirely off the bill?

WITTMANN: Well, I've long thought that he was the most handsome of the figures that currently grace American currency so, you know, I'll miss him for that. But it sounds like he could still be on the bill just in a somewhat different form.

BLOCK: A lesser role.


BLOCK: Well, Matt Wittmann, thanks for talking to us today.


BLOCK: That's Matt Wittmann. He's assistant curator of American coins and currency at the American Numismatic Society. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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