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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.

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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
Acknowledgements

The battle to thwart counterfeiters continues to this day. Early deterrents relied on punishment – principally death, but also some imaginative tortures to halt the practice. How effective these methods were is open to debate, but we can be sure the persons caught did not continue counterfeiting!

Detecting counterfeit banknotes is the second front in the battle against them. By definition, a fake banknote cannot be redeemed. The disadvantage of this position is it forces an innocent holder of a phony banknote to absorb the loss. Once discovered, a bad note is usually confiscated without reimbursement to the losing holder. Since counterfeiters usually concentrate on high-value banknotes, losses can be substantial.

Early banknotes usually relied on the difficulty of reproducing signatures and embossed seals to discourage reproduction. Generally applied by hand by specifically authorized persons, the task of signing each piece of money must have been onerous. Picture being that person and someone dumps hundreds of banknotes on your desk, each to be hand-signed in the same way, from first to last.

Special papers and inks were also employed in the making of banknotes. French Assignaughts, for example, included watermarks in their paper. The American colonies often printed banknotes on paper infused with mica particles. Sometimes high-denomination banknotes were printed in multiple colours, counting on separate passes through the press needed for the application of each colour to be too complicated for most counterfeiters to duplicate.

Several well-known early Americans applied their skills to outwitting counterfeiters. Paul Revere, a renowned silversmith (and early American patriot) engraved plates for Colonial banknotes. Benjamin Franklin, a printer by trade, came up with the idea of using tree leaves to print a vignette on the backs of banknotes, based on the observation no two leaves have exactly the same pattern of veins, thereby making the duplication of a banknote impossible. Impressions used were entered into a book, which could then be consulted for comparison whenever a doubtful banknote was encountered. The problem with the concept was the man who possessed the banknote had no way of immediately certifying the note’s authenticity. Ordinary citizens probably did not even know where the master book was kept.