IBNS Journal 57-2

IBNS Journal Volume 57 Issue 2 will be posted to members shortly. Articles include: Ireland Currency Commission Essays, Banco Nacional Ultramarina Notes for Portuguese India in Goa, Moire Patterns. Login to download your copy.

Banknote of 2018 Nominations

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A History of Printed Money

Article Index
A History of Printed Money
Receipts representing Money
First Use of Paper Money
First European Banknotes
Problems for the Public
The Battle with Counterfeiters
Early Security Features
High Denomination Banknotes
Enhanced Security Features

The next major innovation incorporating security features in banknotes was the insertion of one or more metallic threads in paper used for printing banknotes. Although the technique was patented in 1848, Great Britain was the first country to issue banknotes with the device one-hundred years later in 1948. When held up to light, the thread, which usually is embedded from top to bottom, stands out as a black line through the note. To thwart this device, counterfeiters simply drew a black line down the face of their notes – crude, but effective in dim light.


In 1984, the Bank of England issued a £20 note with a broken security thread forming a series of 4 mm dashes appearing to weave in and out of the face of the banknote. At the time, this was publicized as the epitome of anti-counterfeiting technology – said to be impossible to replicate. As this writer heard the story, counterfeits began appearing within months. After printing their spurious notes, the counterfeiters merely made a series of dashes across the face of their notes with super-glue, stuck thin aluminum foil to the glue, and then peeled it off - a nearly perfect imitation of a metallic thread running in and out of the paper!

Since those early pursuits, most countries now incorporate some form of security thread in their banknotes. Modern threads may be made of metal, plastic or some other material, come in different colours, varying widths, weave from one side to the other, have micro-printed surfaces, and even be machine readable for counting and identification purposes. In addition, threads are rarely used alone.

Nearly all modern banknotes incorporate multiple anti-counterfeiting devices. Some, especially high-denomination notes, may have as many as fifty such elements, some obvious, some secret. These range from multiple alphabetical fonts, differing sizes and shapes for letters and digits in serial numbers, to special inks that can only be seen under ultra-violet or infrared light. Heat transfers of optical variable devices (OVD) and/or holograms are also favoured on modern banknotes.

Australia pioneered the use of banknotes printed on polymer instead of paper. Not only do these banknotes have a longer life than paper banknotes, but by incorporating see-through windows in each note, they have proven to be almost impossible to replicate without expensive, special machinery. As this is being written, approximately 26 countries are now using the Australian technology for some or all of their banknotes.

The banknotes of the future will have even more amazing security devices. Advances in coatings and inks will enable banknotes to be printed that will light-up or change colours when handled. Metallic strips heat-sealed to the polymer or paper can be impregnated with information. It will soon be possible to have banknotes which will add themselves up when they are deposited into a cash register, or subtract when taken out. Wallets can be designed, which will read the strips on the banknotes and show you instantly how much money you have in your wallet the moment you open it. Similar processes will permit banknotes to be identified if they are stolen. It should be possible to alert public transportation turnstiles to signal authorities if a specific banknote passes near special detectors. Most of these features can be expected within five years.

As we have seen, coupled with a little bit of knowledge about the evolution of the features that distinguish them, banknote collecting can be a fun and rewarding hobby. The same features making stamp collecting interesting can be applied to banknote collecting – with the added appeal that banknotes are bigger, tend to be changed less frequently, and are issued in fewer numbers than stamps. Indeed, ask a banknote collector how he or she came to collect banknotes, most will tell you they started collecting stamps, moved to coins, and as their income improved, started collecting banknotes. It’s a great hobby!