Is That a George Washington in My Pocket?

Dutch banknotes

These Dutch banknotes were designed with raised marks to help visually impaired people. Audrius Tomonis / Banknotes Images hide caption

itoggle caption Audrius Tomonis / Banknotes Images

You might not know who's buried in Grant's tomb, but you may soon know whether he's in your pocket. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Treasury Department must include features on all banknotes to give visually impaired people access to money. (That includes Grant, who's on the $50 bill.)

"Of the more than 180 countries that issue paper currency," Judge James Robertson wrote in his decision, "only the United States prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations. Every other issuer includes at least some features that help the visually impaired."

If the U.S. changes dollar designs (the government has 10 days to appeal Robertson's decision), options include watermarks, different-sized bills — even different colors. Here’s how other countries do it.

Special-Engraved Visible Marks

Malaysian banknote

An engraved mark on a bill functions like Braille dots. Though the marks are typically shallower than the dots, they are often printed in patterns, which make denominations easy to identify. Sixteen countries engrave marks on their currency, including Malaysia, whose currency (pictured here) features raised geometric shapes. One flaw: as the note becomes worn, the raised marks wear down.

Raised Watermarks

Japanese yen

Raised watermarks, like engraved visual marks, can be placed on different corners of a bill to differentiate various denominations. Japan's bills, pictured here, use watermarks in different corners of their bills.

Different Sizes and Colors

Euro

All U.S. banknotes are the same size and color, but more than 100 countries issue banknotes in different sizes, and more than 150 countries use different colors to differentiate various denominations. Distinctive colors can help visually impaired or color-blind individuals separate various bills; different-sized notes are also a good way to size up a bill's denomination. The Euro, pictured here, uses both distinctive colors and sizes.

Holes

Japanese coins

They're helpful in coins — like the ones pictured here, from Japan. But they're likely to shorten the shelf-life of a paper bill. So if you're thinking there could be a cherry-sized divot above George Washington's head, think again.

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