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Dollars and centuries: Watching money morph is enriching

A new series of GIFs shows how US paper money has changed its look over 150 years. It's way more engrossing than it sounds.

The Martha Washington dollar bill from 1886.

In 1836, President Andrew Jackson vetoed renewing the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, formed in 1816. The US banking system then became a bit of a free-for-all with state banks issuing their own currency.

"These banks issued state bank notes in various sizes, shapes and designs," says Federal Reserve news site FedFocus. "By 1860, an estimated 8,000 different state banks were circulating banknotes in denominations from ½ cent to $20,000."

That all changed in 1861 when Congress issued Demand Notes to finance the Civil War, followed by Legal Tender Notes in 1862. To this day, all paper money issued by the government since 1861 can still be redeemed for face value, though its look has changed dramatically over time.

To see just how our singles, fivers and ten spots have changed, head over to a GIF-filled blog post from There you'll find a collection of GIFs that morph bills from the 1800s into the cash we're using today. It might sound like something only an economist could enjoy but, believe me, it's captivating.

You can watch as denominations from $1 to $100 change from the ornate scroll-filled works of art they were at the end of the 19th century to the more sober bills we spend today. A handy slider beneath each image lets you see the time period that corresponds to each iteration of the bill and beneath each GIF you'll find a description of who or what appears on each note.

The Obama administration announced this summer that a woman's image will be on the $10 bill in 2020. says that learning this won't be the first female face to grace our greenbacks -- Martha Washington made an appearance on the $1 bill in 1886 -- inspired the creation of this GIF series.

According to the Federal Reserve, a $10 bill only lasts 4.5 years. But thanks to these images, all our paper currency will at least have a longer life online.