DETECTING COUNTERFEIT MONEY
The desire to accumulate property is one of the noblest that
nature has implanted in man, and it is through the successful
results of this desire, we are enabled to point with unerring
certainty to the disembarking line, which so surely
characterizes the advanced educated, refined and civilized man
from that of the wild savage, whose highest desire is to slay
and rob his fellow men, and proudly exhibit their scalps, or
the plunder he has acquired, as evidence of his cunning or
It is through this inborn desire to accumulate that man is
willing to labor, toil, suffer, and forego present
gratifications for the hope of future greater satisfactions;
that has resulted in the building and equiping the mighty ships
of commerce, whose white, spreading canvas dots every sea where
commerce may be known, or where the interests of God's
creatures may best be served. It is through this desire,
coupled with unremitting toil, that we owe everything of
permanent enjoyment, of enlightenment and of prosperity. The
millions of dollars of paper money which is handled every day
as the natural fruit of toil and saving through the many and
diversified transactions in the vast, illimitable and ever
rapidly developing field of commerce, is but the representative
of ownership of property.
If this representative is what it purports on its face to
be, each and every one who receives it in exchange for services
or commodities, owns not merely a piece of paper, with designs,
words and promises printed or engraved thereon, but an interest
or an undivided whole in a farm, a block of buildings or a
store well stocked with merchandise, which, in his estimation,
at least, is more desirable to him than the labor or commodity
for which he has voluntarily made the exchange; but, if on the
contrary, it is other than what it purports on its face to be,
he finds that he is the owner of a piece of paper whose value
There is, at the present writing, 1884, nearly eight hundred
million dollars of paper currency in the United States,
consisting of greenbacks and national currency, a great portion
of which is in actual circulation, and it has been estimated by
eminent authorities, who occupy positions of trust in the
various departments through which the financial machinery of
this vast sea of paper money is daily circulated, that there is
in circulation nearly one-fifth of this amount in counterfeit
money, or about one hundred and sixty million dollars; and not
one dollar of this counterfeit money owes its circulation to
any excellence of the work in its manufacture, but wholly to
the general ignorance of those who handle it, as to what is
required to constitute a genuine bill. The time will come when
the United States will redeem all of its issue of paper money,
when those who are holding any of this counterfeit money will
have to stand the loss to the extent of the sum in their
possession. To all of those who are willing to take a small
portion of their time each day for a few weeks in learning just
what it takes to constitute a genuine bill, there need be no
necessity of ever losing anything by counterfeiters, as it is
impossible for them to make bills which will in any way
approach the beauty and exactness of the genuine ones. There is
not at the present time, nor has there ever been in the past,
nor will there ever be in the future, a counterfeit bill made
that cannot be detected at sight; and the positive knowledge of
how to know at all times when a bill is genuine and when not is
within the reach of all those who may have the privilege of
reading the following information or infallible
rules with a genuine desire
to be thereby.
DEVICES AND FRAUDS.
Various devices are resorted to by a numerous gang or body
of persons, to get on in the world without turning their
attention to legitimate and useful employments. This class
includes many that are not engaged in the practice of
counterfeiting and putting forth bad money, but who make
themselves felt in various ways through vain tricks and
schemes, which are, to all intents and purposes, frauds.
Business men are generally apt at detecting and turning off
petty schemes, but they find it best to have the means with
which they may deal successfully as against regular swindlers,
forgers and counterfeiters.
COUNTERFEIT AND GENUINE WORK.
DETECTING COUNTERFEIT MONEY
As indicated above, counterfeit notes are issued and put
into the channels of circulation in abundance every year by
those engaged in the practice of counterfeiting. These notes
are often such good imitations of the genuine that it is quite
difficult to discern the difference.
That he may protect himself, each business man should have
some definite knowledge of a genuine bank-note.
The engraving of a genuine bank note, in most all of its
parts, is done by machinery, and it is more exact and perfect.
On the contrary, most all parts of counterfeit notes are done
Counterfeiters cannot afford to purchase machinery, such as
is used for the production of genuine notes. The cost of such
machinery is between $100,000, and $150,000, and if it were in
wrong hands it would be always liable to seizure and
In order to prevent the forgery of bank-notes, a great deal
of ingenuity and art has been expended on their production. The
principal features of the manufacture are described as a
peculiar kind of paper and water mark; an elaborate design,
printed with a peculiar kind of ink, and certain private marks,
known only by the bank officials.
The work of counterfeiters can never equal that of the
makers of genuine notes, whose skill and facilities for
producing the highest grade of work known to the art, are the
best that the world affords.
Unless one is somewhat learned as to the quality of
engraving, that he may be able to distinguish a fine specimen
of the art when he sees it, he is likely to become a victim of
the counterfeiter's operations.
When the genuineness of a bank-note is doubted, the Lathe
Work on the note should first be closely scrutinized. The
several letters of denomination, circles, ovals, and shadings
between and around the letters in the words, etc., are composed
of numberless extremely fine lines—inclusive of lines
straight, curved and network. These are all regular and
unbroken, never running into each other, and may be traced
throughout with a magnifying glass.
Without the skill or machinery, by which the genuine is
produced, the same quality of work cannot be done. Therefore,
in a counterfeit, the lines are imperfect, giving the paper a
dull or hazy aspect, that may be all the better appreciated by
comparing it with the genuine. The lines in the counterfeit
will be found now and then irregular in size, and broken: not
uniform in course, sometimes heavy, sometimes light: no two
stamps or dies on the same note being exactly alike.
The fine, uniform, shade-lines, with which the letters on
the genuine are embellished, are wrought by a machine that
cannot be reproduced by counterfeiters, nor used for other than
legitimate purposes, by authority.
The fine line is the characteristic of the various and
beautiful figures which are seen on a genuine note. This line
is produced by what is called the Geometrical Lathe. The
patterns made by the geometrical lathe are of every variety of
form. They are not engraved directly upon the bank-note plate,
but on pieces of soft steel plate, which are afterwards
hardened. The impressions are then transferred to a soft steel
roller, which, in its turn, is also hardened, and the
impressions remain there, in relief. This roller is then
capable of transferring the same designs to the bank-note plate
by means of the transfer press.
In counterfeit engraving, the design is made directly upon
the plate, and not by transfer, as in the production
of plates for genuine notes.
The essential difference between the two methods of
production is, the counterfeit is made by hand, and is
inexact and imperfect, while the genuine is made on
geometrical principles, and is therefore exact, artistic and
In all the government issues the geometric lathe work is
liberally used. This should be studied carefully, as it
constitutes the chief test of genuineness.
Fine lines, of unerring exactness, never broken, are seen on
the genuine medallion heads, or shields, upon which the
designation of the note is sometimes stamped. This nicety
cannot be given by hand, or with the use of imperfect
machinery. By close scrutiny the lines will be found to break
off in the pattern, or appear forked, irregular in size, and
not well defined throughout.
On most counterfeits the vignettes are not well engraved,
and the portraits have a dull appearance; the letters are
usually wanting in clearness; the printing is sometimes faulty,
by which some features of the note are obscured.
RULING ENGINE WORK.
In Ruling Engine Work, as it is called, the fine line is
present, also. The engraving is produced and transferred in the
same way as the geometrical lathe work. In this they are
parallel and not in circles. Those which constitute the shading
of letters are so fine that they form a perfectly even gray
shade. They may be printed so that the shading will appear
darker, but the aspect will be uniform. The spaces between
lines are exact, whether the lines be horizontal or diagonal.
The lines are also made crooked or wave-like, not absolutely
parallel. Ruling engine work is generally used for shading of
names of banks, and also for the names of town, state, etc.
While lathe work and that of the ruling engine are
invariably machine work, and therefore cannot be successfully
reproduced by counterfeiters, the Vignettes are chiefly the
work of the hands. In all genuine work they are made by first
class artists, who are well paid for their services, and who
therefore have no incentive to exercise their skill for
Sometimes water and sky are done with the ruling engine, and
when they are, no counterfeiter can successfully imitate them.
Fine vignettes are seldom seen on counterfeit notes. If the
lathe and ruling engine work be genuine, an ordinary vignette
cannot make a note counterfeit, and if that be counterfeit, no
vignette can make the note genuine.
The vignettes on genuine notes are executed by men at the
head of their vocation, and are very life-like and beautiful.
Counterfeit vignettes usually have a sunken and lifeless
appearance. Genuine vignettes, as seen upon government issues,
consist of out-door scenes, portraits, historical pictures, and
allegorical figures. They are all exceedingly beautiful, and it
is not likely that such work will ever be successfully
The lettering, or solid print, in genuine work is done by a
first-class artist, who makes that kind of work his exclusive
concern. The name of the engraving company is always engraved
with great pains and is very accurate. It will be seen on the
upper and lower margin of the note. This, in counterfeits, is
not quite uniform or even. The words "one dollar," as on the
one dollar greenbacks, are to be considered as a sample of
Bank-notes are printed upon paper composed of linen, the
qualify of which is not always the same, and it varies in
thickness. Therefore, the paper is not always a sure test, but
it is important. The manufacture of this paper is a profound
secret, as carefully kept as the combinations to the great
vaults where the government's millions lie awaiting further
river and harbor bills. It is made only at the Dalton mill,
which dates back almost to colonial days. What its combinations
are nobody knows except those intimately connected with its
manufacture. The secret of the paper-making is jealously
guarded, as is also the paper itself. From the moment it is
made until it gets into the treasury vaults it is carefully
guarded. It goes there in small iron safes, the sheets
carefully counted, and all precautions against its loss being
taken both by the government officials and by the express
companies which carry
Sometimes genuine notes are stolen before they are signed;
then the only thing about them made counterfeit is the
signatures. Those who are familiar with the signatures of the
officers of the bank where notes are purloined, may not be lead
into error, as such signatures usually appear more or less
cramped or unsteady; but there is no sure protection against a
counterfeit of this kind for those who do not have special
knowledge of the signatures.
UNITED STATES TREASURY BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Bank-notes are altered in two ways, namely: raising the
denomination, and changing the name of a broken to that of a
First, in altering a note, it is scraped until thin: then
figures of larger denomination are pasted over. A pasted note
may be detected by holding it up to the light, when the pasted
parts will appear darker, as they are thicker.
Second, the denomination of a note is raised by taking out a
low one with an acid, and printing in a higher one with a
counterfeit stamp. The ink used in genuine bank-note printing
is a peculiar kind, and not easily to be obtained by
counterfeiters: therefore, their printing will not appear as
clear and bright as that of the government, which is done with
ink of the finest quality. If the ink is black, it gives a
clear and glossy impression, without any of that smutty
appearance, as is sometimes seen in counterfeit bank-notes. It
is almost impossible to imitate the green ink that is used by
the government, and it is nearly as difficult to imitate the
red and other colors. Counterfeit inks look dull and muddy,
while genuine inks have a glossy appearance.
In the case of a note altered by the use of acid, it may be
noticed that the acid, by spreading more than was intended by
the counterfeiter, has injured parts of other letters, and the
paper will appear more or less stained by the acid.
COMPARING AND EXAMINING NOTES.
A counterfeit should be compared with one that is genuine,
in order to familiarize one's self with the distinguishing
features which have already been indicated.
It is best to acquire the habit of giving each note as
received a searching glance, turning it over to see the back,
and if there be any defect, it will probably catch the eye. If
there be the least suspicion, a critical
examination of all its parts
should be made.
In case of doubt, the lathe work should be carefully
examined, and it may be compared with a perfectly good bill;
then examine the shading around the letters, and search for any
sign of alteration in the title or denomination of the note. If
there are any medallion heads or shields, notice the lines; if
there is any red letter work, designed to appear on both sides,
look at the character of the work on the face, then turn the
note and examine the back. If the printing is not exactly alike
on both sides, but varies in any part the note is counterfeit.
Then observe the vignettes and portraits, to see whether their
style and perfection compare well with the work on genuine
notes. Then examine the solid print and engravers' names, as
well as the printing, ink, and paper. By such thorough
examination, one can hardly be at a loss to determine the
status of the note.
Good magnifying glasses are necessary, in most instances, to
bring out the fine lines on bank-notes. Sometimes a microscope
of great power is required to discern the genuine line.
Counterfeiters sometimes make ten bills of nine by what is
termed piecing. Thus, a counterfeit note is cut into ten pieces
by the counterfeiter, and these pieces are used in piecing nine
genuine bills, from each of which a piece has been cut. The
nine genuine pieces, thus obtained, are then pasted together,
and with the tenth counterfeit piece added, make a tenth bill,
which is the gain.
Piecing bank-bills is not a very successful practice. One
who possesses such information as here given, can readily
detect the difference between the counterfeit and the genuine.
This difference is, however, made less apparent by the
counterfeiter, who defaces the counterfeit part, so as to give
the note a worn appearance. Counterfeiting is rendered very
difficult in consequence of the remarkable excellence of the
work on the government and national currency, as also from the
difficulty of imitating the green. But this currency, if
successfully imitated by counterfeiters, will repay large
outlay and care, as the greenbacks pass anywhere in the nation,
and a counterfeit may be carried to other states or sections as
it becomes known in any particular locality. National bank
currency may be counterfeited by preparing a plate, and then
with simple change in the name of the bank the counterfeit can
be adapted to the various towns where banks are located. This
much is written, not to lessen the value of or confidence in
the issues of the government, but to admonish the public
against the dangers of a false security.