Counterfeit Detection: Straits Settlements 5 Dollars

Posted on 4/23/2024

Contemporary counterfeits of this vintage note struggled with the fine details.

Well-circulated contemporary counterfeits are a testament to the skill of forgers who created the fake notes. The collecting community recognizes the value and history of many of these notes, which circulated alongside genuine examples. At its discretion, PMG certifies and grades certain contemporary counterfeits.

One example is the Straits Settlements / British Administration 1901-24 5 Dollars, also known by its catalog number: Pick# 3. The PMG Population Report counts more than 180 genuine examples as well as more than 40 examples of contemporary counterfeits, listed as catalog number 3x. Genuine examples can sell for thousands of dollars, while contemporary counterfeits can sell for hundreds of dollars.

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The Straits Settlements were a group of British colonies in Southeast Asia that included Singapore. It began issuing banknotes in the late 1800s, and the Straits Dollar was used until it was replaced with the Malayan Dollar in 1939. Today, there is a thriving paper money collecting community in Southeast Asia, which has demonstrated a strong appetite for early examples of Straits Settlements paper money.

PMG recently certified a genuine Pick# 3 note as well as four corresponding contemporary counterfeits from the Peh Family Collection. These will be offered in a June auction presented by Ira and Larry Goldberg Auctioneers.

So how can you tell if you have a genuine example or a contemporary counterfeit? A good place to start is by scrutinizing the words CURRENCY COMMISSIONERS on the front of the note, as well as the bracket to the left. Notice how thin the letters and bracket are on the genuine example, which the counterfeiter struggled to replicate.

A similar issue occurs at the bottom of the front of the note, where the name of the printer is located: THOS. DE LA RUE & CO. LTD. LONDON. Upon close examination, the letters on the counterfeit appear to be thicker and, in certain places, incomplete. However, this is not something that would likely have been noticed by ordinary participants in everyday commerce.

Genuine notes are printed, both on the front and back, with an intaglio process, which involves incisions in the plate that hold the ink. Counterfeits often use an intaglio process on the front, but one that is of poorer quality. The backs of counterfeits are often printed with a lithograph process, which results in less detail.

For example, the corners of the front of this Straits Settlements note feature the denomination surrounded by an intricate pattern within an octagon, which itself appears to be in a square. At the corners and along the edges of this square, note the tiny circles or similar shapes on the genuine example. These appear as smudges on the counterfeit.

Additionally, notice that the small words FIVE DOLLARS are embedded within the large letters FIVE on the front of the note. They appear wobblier and inconsistent on the counterfeit. Also note how uneven this particular serial number is on the fake.

Finally, the back of the fake note also holds an important clue about the inferior printing process that was used. The four six-pointed stars shown below, which are well-defined on the genuine note, dissolve into blobs on the counterfeit.

Whether it's a genuine note or a contemporary counterfeit, remember that PMG backs its determinations of authenticity and grade with the PMG Guarantee.

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View more PMG Counterfeit Detection columns

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