"Secrets of Making Money"
Tonight on NOVA, they get washed, tossed, chewed, and now, copied. What was once the domain of master craftsmen has become a playground for lawbreakers. But the Feds are fighting back. Can they design a bill that will take the abuse and stop the counterfeiters? "Secrets of Making Money."
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STACY KEACH: Down the guarded corridors of the US Treasury, a secret project has been underway to counter a growing threat to the United States economy. A team of scientists and designers have crafted a new weapon for an age-old struggle. After five years behind closed doors, they are ready to reveal their work to the American public.
ROBERT RUBIN: Now, ladies and gentlemen, indeed the moment we have been waiting for: the new currency.
STACY KEACH: This new $100 bill is the Treasury's best defense in an escalating battle against counterfeiting. From its oversized portrait to its high-tech ink, this radically redesigned banknote marks a new era for American money. The hundred is the first note to be issued, but over the next few years, all denominations will face a similar overhaul. These bills must withstand counterfeiting threats unimaginable years ago, threats that prompted the Treasury to overcome its long reluctance to tamper with the greenback. Few national symbols are as recognized worldwide as the US dollar. At the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, America's banknote designers stood by as other countries pushed forward with new currencies and the latest counterfeit deterrents.
TOM FERGUSON: Other countries have been very innovative in the field of security documents, countries such as Australia, which has actually produced a currency on plastic, incorporating clear windows, which are difficult, obviously, for copiers to copy onto paper. The Austrians have added a kinogram, which is a feature which changes image. Mozart looks one way, and as you tilt the note, Mozart looks the other way. We tend to think of new things, things that are shiny or things that are added to the note as a security feature. But everything, everything from the paper, the ink, the printing, the design, everything is intended to add some level of additional security to the document.
STACY KEACH: For years, Tom Ferguson and his researchers explored other national currencies, looking for features that might one day update the greenback. US currency has remained almost unaltered for almost six decades. Its elegant but archaic design helped make it the most counterfeited in the world. With its 19th century look, it has been ill-equipped to fight counterfeiters in the 20th.
ROBERT LEUVER: The US currency has been extremely vulnerable to counterfeiting for two reasons. The first is, the design was created back in the mid-20s, released on 1929. It's given people a tremendous opportunity to practice their skills at counterfeiting. And the second reason is that it's an international currency, it's valued all over the world. And the further that you get from the United States, the less people have an appreciation of what a genuine note looks like.
STACY KEACH: Over $360 million in counterfeit notes were confiscated in 1995 alone. Millions, perhaps billions more, went undetected. Every day in its New York branch, the Federal Reserve—the nation's central bank—sorts and processes over twelve million used notes. Machines check the optical and magnetic properties of each bill so that counterfeits can be detected. These are the counterfeits found this month in New York City. Everywhere, the problem is growing, because over the past decade, the game of making a dishonest buck has changed. When New York printer Mike Landress was a young man, the world of counterfeiting was ruled by skilled craftsmen. A knowledge of photography and traditional printing techniques was essential. While a reformed man today, thirty years ago, Landress got caught with green fingers. In his book, I Made It Myself, he recalls the lure of making easy money.
MIKE LANDRESS: I was arrested for counterfeiting in 1964. I happen to be regarded as one of the lucky few in American history who wasn't sent to jail, because of some mitigating circumstances with the Secret Service. In the over forty years that I have been a printer, I have never once met a cameraman in this industry who hasn't at least once put a Federal Reserve note in the copyboard of his camera for the purpose of shooting a negative. This, in itself, is a felony, except that I'm going to blow it up 150% to conform with Federal regulations.
STACY KEACH: For years, the key to making a bogus buck was a good negative.
MIKE LANDRESS: You watch that beautiful fine-line, elegant engraving coming up at you gradually with this red safe light around. Your heart starts to beat, and it's a weird thing because you're surreptitious. You've entered some kind of criminal adventure that doesn't even seem like a crime, and as he becomes clearer and clearer and elegantly defined, that is almost analogous to the reaching of orgasm.
STACY KEACH: But a single negative isn't enough. The bill has two colors, green and black, and a separate negative is needed for each. The green Treasury seal somehow must be removed from the word "fifty" printed in black below it. For obvious reasons, the tricks of this technique cannot be divulged.
MIKE LANDRESS: If I'd realized, of course, at the time, what it can do to your life, I never would have attempted it, and my advice to anybody who keeps thinking about that, just don't go beyond shooting the negative. And when you get through shooting the negative, put it in a tray of Clorox and let it—Watch it all bleach out and wind up with a clear piece of film, and you'll wind up with a clear mind.
STACY KEACH: Today, counterfeiters don't need to shoot a negative. This is a high-definition laser scanner. It can replace the work of photography in making printing plates. After the fine-line details of the bill have been converted into electronic data, the touch-up work for the counterfeit begins.
MIKE'S PARTNER: OK, Mike. Let's see what we've got here.
MIKE LANDRESS: Let's focus in and blow up the section where the Treasury seal overprints the word "fifty."
STACY KEACH: Once again, they home in on the Treasury seal. For the computer, it's an easy target.
MIKE LANDRESS: That's great. That's astounding! It took me more than a week to fool around with manual masking and blowing up and reducing.
STACY KEACH: After a good copy of a bill is obtained by photography or laser scanner, the next step is to make a plate for printing. Add carefully-selected ink, some fine-quality paper, and the counterfeits are ready to roll. This is an offset printing press, responsible for 90% of all counterfeits. Sometimes, high technology is used to make things go faster, but the skills of a printer like Mike Landress are still needed to produce the notes.
MIKE LANDRESS: Well, as far as all the new robotics and laser scanners and everything that we're experiencing in the last fifteen years, I don't think that'll have—That'll have little or no effect on the traditional printers. They're going to have to use basically the same method, and the temptation is the same. All it does is save a little bit of time. But the other technology that's out there, these color photocopiers, I think it just widens the potential. It makes the potential much larger. It seems so easy to do. Everybody must realize, it's the same felony to stick your Federal Reserve note into one of those photocopiers for the purpose of reproducing it. It's still a major crime.
STACY KEACH: New technologies have created a new breed of criminal, so-called "casual counterfeiters."
ATTENDANT AT COPY SHOP: This is a little bit yellow, so we'll just knock down the yellow. It would also knock down a little bit of the green. This is the first copy that came off, so that's why it's not an exact match.
STACY KEACH: And printing on both sides?
ATTENDANT AT COPY SHOP: It's not recommended, but it's possible. The company doesn't recommend doing it, so we don't. But it has been done. I've seen it.
TOM FERGUSON: The traditional counterfeiter had to go buy fairly large, sophisticated equipment and materials. Those are things that are easy for law enforcement people to monitor and to control. The concern of the future would be the modern reprographic equipment—copiers, scanners, computer printers—that would be available in the officeplace and even the home. The concern of five people each making ten thousand notes is much different than ten thousand people each making five notes.
STACY KEACH: Casual counterfeiting is growing. If unchecked, it could reach $2 million a year by the year 2000. Evidence of this new style of counterfeiting has accumulated in the archives of the Secret Service. Their files contain over 20,000 varieties of notes, some more convincing than others.
DONNA ORLOVE: I would say that the majority of the counterfeits that are contained in our specimen vault are obvious counterfeits. Now, granted, I am a counterfeit specialist, so I examine counterfeit currency and I look at currency on a daily basis, but there are thousands and thousands of examples. This would be an obvious counterfeit. It is a $5 banknote that was produced on a black and white copier machine, and the Treasury seal has been filled in with green ink. This is a terrible reproduction, and it was passed on the public.
STACY KEACH: Color copies are much better than black and white, but they are still no match for the genuine.
DONNA ORLOVE: Color copier notes look different from a genuine for a number of reasons. They generally give us somewhat of a shinier appearance. And because genuine currency is not white paper, the copier machine fills in the non-image area with toner, which gives the counterfeit note overall a somewhat yellow or dingy appearance. In addition, the entire image is just—It's just not nearly as clear. It's a lot muddier than you would see on a genuine banknote.
STACY KEACH: The tell-tale sign of virtually all counterfeits, whether color copied or offset printed, is their flat look and feel. The raised ink quality of genuine currency is the result of a special printing process called "intaglio." It begins with fine-line engravings carved in soft steel. From the hand-cut engravings, final printing plates are made for mass production on enormous intaglio presses. Ink will fill the grooves of the engravings, and under twenty tons of pressure, will be forced out onto the surface of the paper. The resulting banknote has the raised ink feel and three-dimensional look that is the hallmark of the genuine article. While other countries radically revamped their money to make it more secure, the US continued to rely primarily on Old World engravings. Despite clear signs of its age, the Treasury felt no need to overhaul the greenback. But in the early 1990s, the government sprang into action. Was it new technology, or something far more threatening that prompted the change?
ROBERT LEUVER: I think the real concern by the Treasury Department is in the professional counterfeiter, not the casual counterfeiter. The casual counterfeiter obviously bothers them, because somebody can take a note, put it on a photocopy machine, go down to a subway station or a money change machine, and be able to get some sort of currency. But, they're dealing with a ten or a five or maybe a twenty dollar bill. But the real significant counterfeiting are the hundred dollar bills, which are circulating all over the world.
STACY KEACH: Nearly two-thirds of US cash is overseas, so counterfeiting is a worldwide problem. Where demand for dollars is strong, such as in Russia, there has been a surge in high-quality counterfeiting. In 1993 alone, the amount confiscated abroad grew 300%. The most popular target of international counterfeiters is the $100 bill. These counterfeit hundreds support arms purchases, the drug trade, and terrorist activity. There are even suggestions that counterfeiting is being used as a calculated attack on the nation. A Republican congressional taskforce issued strong charges with this 1992 report, warning: "Evidence has recently come to light that the governments of Iran and Syria are actively engaged in economic warfare against the United States through the production and dissemination of high-quality counterfeit dollar bills." The report describes a conspiracy arising from the ruins of the war between Iran and Iraq. Short of hard currency, the Iranian government allegedly launched counterfeiting operations to help the country rebuild. The Iranian government dismisses these charges. But there are counterfeits of such high quality found in the Middle East, they're called "Supernotes." They have the raised ink feel of bills printed on intaglio presses, equipment generally owned by governments.
ROBERT LEUVER: Ninety percent of the presses that are used to print security paper come from one company, De la rue Giori in Switzerland. And, Iran has these presses. They obtained them in the 1970s, as many other countries throughout the world. Anybody that has this equipment has the same equipment the United States has, so it's not unthinkable that another country has these presses and is capable of using them if they want to subvert the US economy. Whether that's Iran or some other Middle Eastern country, I don't know. But the possibility exists.
STACY KEACH: The Secret Service has confiscated nearly $10 million of the notes circulating in the Middle East, but the source of the Superbill remains elusive. Without definitive proof, the Secret Service will neither confirm nor refute the allegations of state support.
RICHARD ROHDE: There is a number of high-quality counterfeits that circulate around the world. There are high-quality notes that do come out of the Middle East. There are high-quality notes that come out of Colombia, South America. Also out of Canada. I have no knowledge of any state sponsorship of any of these particular operations.
STACY KEACH: Tales of the Supernote and other counterfeiting threats led members of Congress to call for a currency redesign. Treasury decided to act, but the reasons are debatable.
ROBERT LEUVER: I think Treasury, in coming out with this redesign of currency, is responding to a significant threat, and whether that threat originates in the Middle East or the Far East, I can't say for certain. But the money that they're spending upon the change has to be in proportion to the risk involved.
TOM FERGUSON: The new currency is a response to growing technology. It is not a response to a specific crisis. There is no crisis. The American currency system is extremely sound. There is very, very little counterfeiting actually in circulation. This is to get ahead of the curve and to stay ahead of the curve.
STACY KEACH: Whether staying ahead of the curve or playing catch-up, the Treasury has a massive job ahead. The initial roll-out calls for $50 billion in new $100 bills. They have started where the counterfeiting problem is most pressing. But every denomination, from the hundred on down, will be redesigned and issued in the next few years. These notes must thwart all types of counterfeiting. They must be difficult for color copiers to reproduce and stymie even the most sophisticated intaglio printing operations. To make a new $100 bill, Treasury had to reconsider each element of the old note. They explored over 120 different security features, from bar codes to invisible inks to holograms. But of these starting contenders, most would not make the cut. The key to security would be a balance of high technology and Old World craftsmanship.
TOM FERGUSON: No single feature is available that will make a perfect document, a feature that is so good that adding that one feature to the existing design, or even to a new design, will make the document counterfeit-proof. What we've attempted to do is to layer a design, adding lots and lots of features—several features, anyway—at different layers that will provide the general public with easy means of authentication while making it more and more difficult to counterfeit.
STACY KEACH: In the world of money making, even a paper mill is a fortress guarding national secrets. Crane & Co. has made special paper for US currency since 1879, and has never before allowed cameras to document this process. Their paper is unlike any other in the world. And for the new currency, Crane redesigned it to be even more secure against counterfeiting.
TIM CRANE: In redesigning the paper, there was one property that we were told could not change, and that is the feel and the stiffness and the texture that the public has become accustomed to. That stiffness, the crackle, is fundamental in detecting counterfeits in circulation. It is recognized by more bank tellers, by more merchants at the point of sale, than any other property of the paper.
STACY KEACH: The feel of banknote paper springs from a special blend of raw materials. Unlike most paper, made from wood, banknotes come from the same materials that make cloth soft and strong: cotton and linen. Denim scraps from Levi Strauss and other jeans makers will contribute to this all-American product. But the primary constituent is raw cotton. Here, 6,000 pounds are loaded into an enormous boiler. The boiler pressure-cooks the raw cotton for two hours in a caustic bath. The cooked cotton is then cleaned, bleached, and further refined. The cotton and linen fibers must be broken down in a precise way to ensure the strength and feel of the final paper. In this wet state, security features can be incorporated into the paper itself. The greenish, off-white tint of the pulp is carefully adjusted. Tiny red and blue fibers are added, a safeguard of US currency for more than a century. The Secret Service has observed that few counterfeiters effectively recreate this feature.
DONNA ORLOVE: Here we have samples of the counterfeit where the red and blue security fibers have not been simulated, so there are no red and blue fibers in the paper. So, to look at these and have the note completely void of any red and blue security fibers would tell me, or it should tell anybody immediately, that you have a counterfeit note in front of you.
STACY KEACH: But another security device had to be imbedded in the paper to defeat a more sophisticated type of counterfeit called a "raised note."
DONNA ORLOVE: The samples that we have here are two samples of counterfeit US dollars where the paper is actually genuine US currency. This was accomplished by taking a $1 banknote, removing the ink, and then putting it through a printing press and printing a $100 denomination on here. So, the result is that you have a counterfeit $100 banknote on bleached, genuine US currency paper, and since most cash handlers detect counterfeit by the feel, this gives the counterfeiter a very significant advantage for passing his product.
STACY KEACH: To prevent the raising of notes, Treasury needed a way to mark the paper of each denomination as unique. Crane & Co. had the answer, an update of an old idea: security threads.
TIM CRANE: The idea of putting security threads in banknote paper is a very old idea. This paper here is from our archives, which depicts multiple, in this case, cotton threads, three joined together very closely here, running across the paper sample. And these other samples with single threads. In this banknote from the late 1800s, the threads are rather more difficult to see. There are two security threads running the length of the note, and these are actual filaments of yarn. And these threads served to denominate the banknote, to prevent a low denomination banknote from being washed clean of its ink and being raised to a higher value.
STACY KEACH: Security threads today have numbers on them denoting a bill's value. The numbers are 42 thousandths of an inch tall. Cutting this film into individual threads requires immaculate precision, monitored by cameras and computers. The text is clearly visible in transmitted light, but cannot be reproduced by the reflective light of a photocopier. Threads for the new currency also glow red under UV light. The security threads will appear in different locations on each denomination, making raising the notes even more difficult. The threads are embedded into wet paper pulp on the giant machine that shapes Crane's paper. The secret process could not be filmed. Using furnace-like heat, the machine dries the pulp into finished paper. The final rolls, eight feet wide and weighing more than four tons, hold paper strong enough to make money.
TIM CRANE: Currency is kind of like a pizza. There's the base crust, which is the paper, and all the toppings. And they may be printed features. They may be papermaker features. They may be optically-variable devices. But in any case, all of this pizza is built up on the extremely important crust, the durable banknote paper. And without the durability, the circulation lifetime, the resistance to wear, the pizza would fall apart.
STACY KEACH: The toppings that are printed on banknote paper can symbolize a great deal about a country. When nations undergo political change, it is often reflected in the images on their currency. Likewise, maintaining icons on a nation's banknote can signify stability. In revamping US currency, the question of changing the basic images—a political can of worms—was never opened.
TOM FERGUSON: The task presented was to increase or enhance the security of the note. That was the sole purpose of the redesign. There was no interest or intent to aesthetically change the note, to change the people who were honored, to change the buildings, or anything else that would just add to the aesthetics of the note as opposed to the security.
STACY KEACH: But not everyone is so satisfied with the aesthetics of US currency. Long before Treasury unveiled its new $100 note, J.S.G. Boggs was offering his own variations. A darling of the artworld, Boggs has drawn the wrath of the Secret Service, because America's premier money artist not only makes his own cash; he also spends it.
J.S.G. BOGGS: People often make this mistake. They say, "What differentiates money from art?" Well, money is art. I mean, there are other kinds of art, but money is art. It's pictures and pigment on paper. It's portraiture, it's landscape, it's abstract geometric. And it is the ultimate abstract art. It's a symbol for something else.
STACY KEACH: Boggs never sells bills directly. He only parts with them through transactions. They have paid for hotel stays, plots of land, even the motorcycle Boggs rides. Collectors will offer many times the face value to purchase a bill that Boggs has made. But they won't have the opportunity to display a bill unless someone has accepted it in trade. As a money connoisseur, Boggs is concerned that Treasury's redesign of US currency won't go far enough.
J.S.G. BOGGS: Money is the most public of public arts, and it has to catch up and reflect our society today.
STACY KEACH: Boggs proposes his own series for American currency. On his one hundred, he pays tribute to the leader of the Underground Railroad.
J.S.G. BOGGS: I've chosen Harriet Tubman because I think she fits all the criteria for who we should have on our money. She was a great American hero who risked her life for right in the face of all adversity. That's everything that we worship as Americans.
STACY KEACH: How much change for their money to Americans want? Through his transactions, Boggs conducts random surveys.
J.S.G. BOGGS: Who do you think should be on our money?
WOMAN: I'd like to see a woman's face on money. Not everyone would. I guess ideally I'd like to see someone that is well-respected by the United States as a whole. Is it possible to come up with a face like that?
MAN: Why not make a composite sketch of what an American looks like? Big, jowly. Put different ethnic features in a face protruding through the bill. And that's your composite sketch. That's who an American is.
J.S.G. BOGGS: I'm interested in buying this book, which is $24.95. And take this $100 bill, give me the receipt and the change, and we will have performed a transaction.
MAN: It could be the start of something.
WOMAN: Yeah. Something bad.
STACY KEACH: Or, something good. If accepted, one of these bills could be worth thousands of dollars to an art collector.
J.S.G. BOGGS: Well, listen. Thank you very much. You've been very kind in spending the time, and that in itself is worth more than money.
STACY KEACH: While Boggs is the art world's most renowned money man, he is not the only artist with novel proposals for a new US currency. These bills honor as portrait subjects a range of great Americans, from Martha Graham to Martin Luther King. Some stay with Franklin, heeding tradition, but with a twist. Others take a more tongue-in-cheek tack. But at Treasury, the choice is clear.
TOM FERGUSON: Benjamin Franklin will still appear on the new hundred. It's a different engraving of Benjamin Franklin: larger, based on a new portrait of Ben, but still Benjamin Franklin. People around the world know Ben Franklin's on a hundred. He still will be on the hundred.
STACY KEACH: Portraits are not only icons. They are also important security features. The designers researched a number of Franklins, trying to find just the right one.
TOM FERGUSON: The portrait on the face of US currency is probably the best single printed security feature we have. It is something that people recognize. People are used to looking at other people's faces. We do it every day. The human face provides a wide variety of features, character, different planes, different levels of tone, that provide an engraver, in the case of intaglio type printing, the opportunity to do a lot. The new portrait of Benjamin Franklin provided a kind of an enigmatic look, one, I think, that draws people's attention to the portrait.
STACY KEACH: The portrait selected is passed on to the master engraver, who must carve a lifelike image into steel. The final work took nearly a year to complete.
TOM HIPSCHEN: I actually had a lot of time to work on this particular project. So, over that period of time, I read three books about Franklin. I read his own autobiography and several things written about him and several things that he wrote, and I think he was a wonderful character. I mean, he was a human being of incredible proportion. I especially like the idea that he began as a tradesman. He was a printer, which is almost the same trade that I'm in.
STACY KEACH: Tom Hipschen is the first artist in over six decades to put an original portrait on US currency. He is one of a select group of engravers skilled for the task. Engravers must adapt to a looking glass world. To face right on the final bill, Franklin must look left on the engraved plate. The artist must also work his magic within a tiny frame.
TOM HIPSCHEN: I'm restricted to a very specific size, because it has to fit in with everything else. I start with a photo reduction of the image to the exact size that it has to be, and I make a very precise drawing of that. I'm absolutely certain about the line patterns I want and the way I want it to appear before I actually do any cutting. Because once a line or a dot is cut out of the steel, you can't put it back, you know. There's no backing up on it.
STACY KEACH: Each line and dot carved into the steel will translate into raised ink on the final note. Hipschen's work will be printed in an edition of billions, and face the reviews of an audience worldwide.
TOM HIPSCHEN: People comment on the smirk. I didn't really intend to put a smirk on the portrait, but I did go for a painterly effect, which I think was the best part of that portrait. He's a witty guy. And I wanted to have that come across.
STACY KEACH: Ben Franklin, with his Mona Lisa smile, wears an additional security feature. Microprinted in his lapel is the text, "United States of America." The portrait is put on a background that also provides security. The concentric lines of this oval are designed to create interference when scanned by a laser. When photocopied, the oval will be scarred by distortions. The new portrait is placed slightly off-center. This will leave clear space on the right side of the bill for another important new feature: the watermark. Watermarks are the most commonly used security feature in banknotes around the world. These shadowy images can be seen only when backlit. While centuries old, watermarks combat today's counterfeiting technology. Like the security thread, the watermark cannot be reproduced by a scanner or a photocopier.
TIM CRANE: There's a common misconception that the watermark is something imbedded in the paper after the paper is made. Watermarks are actually a part of the three-dimensional structure of the paper. They're nothing added to the paper. They are formed within it. The fiber is more dense in the opaque, dark areas, and there's less fiber in the light, more transmissive areas. And as a result, you have this astounding range in tonal gradation, that to the feel, to the hand of the paper, it's hard to imagine that this is simply a variation in the thickness and the density of the paper.
STACY KEACH: The watermark on the new hundred will be the same Franklin image as the printed portrait. The image is scanned into a computer. The computer will generate instructions for an engraving machine that will cut Franklin into wax. The result is a rough wax template. The final mold requires a human touch. Where more wax is scraped away, more room will be left for paper fiber to build up, creating darker areas in the Franklin image. This Old World artistry is still critical for a 21st Century banknote. From the wax template, a hard, copper die is created. It's used to stamp Franklin's image into a sheet of wire mesh. When wet paper pulp is dried on the wire sheets, Franklin will be indelibly formed. Human inspection safeguards the high quality of watermarks. But most inspection of Crane's paper is done by machine. As the paper is cut, cameras catch even the slightest defect in the sheets whizzing by. Any rejects are automatically cast out. The final reams are trimmed, taped, stamped, and shipped. These seals should only be broken when the paper reaches the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. There, the paper will be printed with ink also formulated to fight counterfeiting. The green of American greenbacks does not come from a single pigment. It's made from a secret mixture of pigments and binding agents. Dollar green is quite hard to copy, but wouldn't it be even harder if combined with other colors? In Holland, bright primary colors have given banknotes a decidedly modern look. The celebrated Dutch designer, Oxenaar, paved the way in the '70s.
OOTJE OXENAAR: In the beginning, when I started with banknotes, I saw all these banknotes everywhere in the world. You see that here, too, the French, the Italian, the Chinese—they were very muddy in color. The only banknotes that really inspired me, in fact, was play money, like the Monopoly money, and that is what I think is necessary for banknotes, too. I made things that you can easily see what you have in your hands, you can easily see they're very clear, they have a clear typography, they have a clear color. They are also easy and practical to produce, and they're very well protected.
TOM FERGUSON: For us, that would be considered a terrible thing to have our design compared to Monopoly money or to play money, as it would symbolize to us less value. But, in other countries, that's fine. That's what they're used to. It's what they expect to see. In the United States, we expect a very traditional, very classic design. Admittedly, in the '70s, we looked at color as potentially having some additional security value. However, the modern reprographic systems are so good at reproducing multi-color, that, in fact, the addition of color was found not to be an enhancement to the security. And, since we only were making changes to the currency not for aesthetics, but to enhance the security, it was determined that adding color was not something we wanted to do.
STACY KEACH: Once again respecting tradition, Treasury officials deemed that the new $100 would remain dollar green and black. But they were willing to consider something radically new. Could a hologram work on US currency? Holograms are three-dimensional images that safeguard against even sophisticated forgers. Some countries have put them on their high-value notes. But holograms are delicate foil structures that can be easily damaged. All features for the new currency have to pass a series of grueling trials in the Bureau's banknote torture chamber. Here, a sample hologram must face the dreaded crumpler. This contraption inflicts more damage than even the tightest fist. After just a single crumble, the hologram shows defeat. The Treasury posed a challenge to scientists at Flex Products in California: Create an image-shifting device, like a hologram, but one that can survive the crumpler. In their first attempt, they deposited thin layers of reflective and clear materials on plastic strips. This created a foil that changed color when struck by light from different angles. The foil—here stamped out as a Treasury Seal—would be hard to counterfeit. But the delicate foil would be crushed by the crumpler, so the Flex team had to come up with a new idea. They stripped off the top layer of foil and ground it into a fine powder. The powder was used as a pigment in ink that could be printed on currency. The ink, printed here as the number 100, shows a good color-shift from black to green. And, even after multiple crumples, the color-shifting 100 in the lower right corner endures. But the crumpler is just the beginning.
TOM FERGUSON: We put our notes through a simulation that greatly abuses that piece of paper. We soak it in gasoline. We soak it in ethanol.
STACY KEACH: A test note is subjected to merciless rubbing and the equivalent of weeks of intense sunlight.
TOM FERGUSON: We run it through washing machines and dryers. We put it in cement mixers with dirt and soil and blocks to try and simulate things that can be done to the currency. And yet, we're sure that the public is finding more and more ways to abuse this piece of paper, and we want to make sure that it lasts.
STACY KEACH: Banknotes must be made to last, but even when they don't, they are still legal tender. A dollar is a dollar, no matter what shape it is in. The government guarantees that even the most mutilated notes can be redeemed.
GRACIE SCRUGGS: We get cases that have been chewed by dogs, horses, pigs—and termites is the most popular of them. The claimant did not indicate in their correspondence that this was eaten by termites, but because of years of experience and the characteristics of a general termite case, we're able to ascertain that this was eaten by termites. Now, the examiner is actually going to go through and duplicate each note. And what I mean by duplication, she's going to choose one area on this blob of currency here, and I suppose that what she will actually do is take the corners, and she will go through and just paste down each corner. If she gets five corners duplicated in the same spot, she will automatically know that she has five dollar bills.
STACY KEACH: Piecing together the parts of the new currency may be considerably easier. Following thorough trials of the individual features, the Treasury's designers put the puzzle together. Here, technical and aesthetic concerns are balanced. The sheer number of new features means that the decorative scrollwork of the old greenback must be simplified. In the lower right, the Treasury's durable, high-tech ink shifts from traditional dollar green to black. The numeral in the lower left reveals 100s within a hundred—micro-printing to defy reproduction. Franklin's watermark is firmly fixed within the paper. And a security thread guards against the raising of notes. These new security features also have secret allies, covert features known only to the Treasury, Federal Reserve, and Secret Service. With its mix of overt deterrents and hidden tricks, has the Treasury created an unforgeable note?
TOM FERGUSON: The ultimate goal of a security printer is to produce the perfect document, one that we can produce over and over again, billions of times, and yet, no one else can ever produce. That goal is the ultimate, but impossible. Nothing that we can produce is perfect to the point no one else could ever produce it. What we want to do is to make it so difficult that they won't try. But we would never claim that this design, or a design we would expect to do even in the future, would be perfect.
STACY KEACH: This new currency will gradually replace all of the old $100 bills, but there will be no recall of the old notes. For a while, they will be in circulation together. And the Secret Service expects to see counterfeits of both designs.
RICHARD ROHDE: Fighting counterfeiting is just not about having a secure note. It's also about the enforcement efforts of the Secret Service. Counterfeiting is as old as history itself. All documents get counterfeited in one fashion or another, sooner or later. I think that the new note is certainly going to help our efforts in combatting counterfeit in the United States currency, but it is not going to end it.
From seashells to tea leaves, explore the changing face of currency through the ages. Tap into NOVA Online at pbs.org.
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