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The E-Sylum (5/2/2010)

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American Numismatic Society Executive Director Ute Wartenberg Kagan submitted these notes on the ANS' new exhibit at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. -Editor

ANS Fellow and ANA Chief Exhibit Judge Joe Boling clearly wasn't happy with the ANS and our new exhibition. He writes in the last E-Sylum:

"... the caption 'Bleached $100 note with fake watermark' is incorrect".

The whole purpose of bleaching banknote paper is to obtain a piece of paper that already has a genuine watermark in it - you don't need to insert another one. The Bureau changed the $5 note so that it would no longer bear a portrait watermark. If you are going to laminate a fake watermark into a note, you start with lightweight plain paper. Making it defeat the ubiquitous marker pens is not a problem."

I personally curated this exhibition, and I can assure Joe that the description was spot on. I didn't make it up myself, as all this material was given to me by U.S. Secret Service special agents, who deal with this on a daily basis.

In this particular case from Colombia, which is known as the "bleaching case", the counterfeiters bleached $1 notes with a rather primitive machine and graffiti removal spray. By doing this, the cotton-linen paper gets much thinner and the watermark is virtually gone. I inspected this myself by holding it up in the air.

They then print a yellowish face of Ben Franklin on one bleached note and printed the other side with a $100 design. A second bleached note has a fake glued (poorly done) security strip and the reverse design of the $100. Then the two notes are glued together in order to get the thicker paper of the original.

Is this logical? No, as the two notes come easily apart, but this is what these Colombian drug dealers were coming up with to make this work. And they produced a huge amount, as the photos of the seizure vividly show.

Bleached $100 note with fake watermark
Bleached $100 note with fake watermark

Go and see the exhibition, which has many more examples of counterfeit notes from 1867 to 2007. There is no need to book in advance. Most individual visitors just walk in off the street. They do not check tens of thousands of New York school children against the no-fly list- to stop this urban myth, but as there are hundreds of tons of gold in the basement, you cannot blame them for checking people.

Joe is however right about our mistake in the press release on the offset printing machines. Mea culpa - I didn't read the edited version carefully enough.

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: JOE BOLING ON THE ANS COUNTERFEIT MONEY EXHIBIT (

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