The Harriet Tubman $20 bill was far along before work delayed
Extensive work was well underway on a new $20 bill bearing the image of Harriet Tubman when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced last month that the design of the note would be delayed for technical reasons by six years and might not include the former slave and abolitionist.
Many Americans were deeply disappointed with the delay of the bill, which was to be the first to bear the face of an AfricanAmerican. The change would push completion of the imagery past President Donald Trump’s time in office, even if he wins a second term, stirring speculation that Trump had intervened to keep his favorite president, Andrew Jackson, a fellow populist, on the front of the note.
But Mnuchin, testifying before Congress, said new security features under development made the 2020 design deadline set by the Obama administration impossible to meet, so he punted Tubman’s fate to a future Treasury secretary.
In fact, work on the new $20 note began before Trump took office, and the basic design already on paper most likely could have satisfied the goal of unveiling a note bearing Tubman’s likeness on next year’s centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. An image of a new $20 bill, produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and obtained by The New York Times from a former Treasury Department official, depicts Tubman in a dark coat with a wide collar and a white scarf.
That preliminary design was completed in late 2016.
A spokeswoman for the bureau, Lydia Washington, confirmed that preliminary designs of the new note were created as part of research that was done after Jacob J. Lew, President Barack Obama’s final Treasury secretary, proposed the idea of a Tubman bill.
The development of the note did not stop there. A current employee of the bureau, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, personally viewed a metal engraving plate and a digital image of a Tubman $20 bill while it was being reviewed by engravers and Secret Service officials as recently as May 2018. This person said that the design appeared to be far along in the process.
Harriet Tubman is pictured circa 1860 to 1875. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said new security features under development made the 2020 design deadline for a new $20 bill featuring Tubman impossible to meet.