Investigating an Anti-Counterfeiting Masterpiece

The presence of multiple and highly complicated security features on banknotes has become somewhat commonplace at the present date.

The sophistication of counterfeiting operations ranging from petty criminals utilizing scanners and printing equipment available at many retail outlets on one end of the spectrum, all the way to well-funded groups using professional - even state-level - equipment on the opposite end has increased dramatically. The result has been a metaphorical arms race played out on the landscape of currency with security printers and nations ceaselessly innovating in the attempt to stay ahead of would-be counterfeiters.

Government of Hong Kong, 2002 Ten Dollar Note, obverse

While there are practically endless candidates of banknotes that could be used as an example to portray some of the measures used by banknote printers to stave off the threat presented by counterfeiting, one in particular stands out. The 10 HKD note issued by the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from 2002 through 2005 (Pick 400a-c) is simultaneously visually stunning and a technical masterpiece.

Government of Hong Kong, 2002 Ten Dollar Note, reverse

Conceding in a press release that the profusion of security features present on the 10 HKD was perhaps unnecessary for a banknote with relatively low face-value and - therefore - an unlikely target of counterfeiters, the Hong Kong Government utilized this particular note as a tangible test-bed for a wide range of anti-counterfeiting measures to be used across future paper money emissions.1

Chief among the security features present on the Government of Hong Kong 10 dollar note from 2002-2005 is the use of the intaglio process for several aspects of the design. Forming the front-line defense for nearly all major circulating currencies around the world, intaglio printing involves the engraving of a design in relief into a metal plate and ultimately transferring that design in multiples onto drums used to print sheets of banknotes at high-speed and under extraordinary pressure. The result is a print with deeply saturated ink that is slightly raised on the surface of the paper. The specific inks often used for this process, combined with the skill required to engrave the plates and the prohibitive cost and sophistication of presses capable of producing intaglio prints in large quantities are often the most effective anti-counterfeiting tool available to banknote printers. On the 2002-2005 10 dollar note, a form of this technique is even used in the absence of ink to produce latent embossing only visible with side-lighting and at very shallow angles.2

Yet another security feature present on the Government of Hong Kong 10 dollar note is the presence of a segmented image of a horse printed in dual tones through the lithographic process. What makes this deceptively simple device so significant is the fact that the full image of the horse is only visible when utilizing back-lighting. The only way to produce such an image in perfect registration is to print the image segments on the front and back of the note simultaneously. Lithographic presses capable of such image production are both rare and expensive. Thus, the use of such technology to produce "see-through" imagery provides both aesthetic and security benefits.

Beyond the specialized printing techniques used on this banknote several security features are built into the paper used to print upon. A watermark of a bauhinia flower in addition to the number "10" in electrotype is present at the left end of the note. Special fibers that fluoresce in various colors when subjected to ultra-violet light are also integrated into the paper substrate. Additionally, a metallic security thread is set in the paper in such a way as to create what is referred to as a "windowing" effect by alternating areas of visible and concealed areas of the thread. Both devices require specialized equipment and even more specialized skills to produce at even the most basic level, let alone the high degree of refinement observed on the Pick #400 Hong Kong 10 dollar note.3

Yet another form of security printing is present on this exceptional note. The use of two highly specialized inks forms another link in a chain seemingly impregnable to potential counterfeiters. A block features the note's denomination in ultra-violet responsive ink on the face while the bauhinia flower featured in the aforementioned watermark as well as the note's denomination are printed in a stripe running vertically on the left end of the reverse in iridescent ink.4

Any one of these security measures can be found on most banknotes in current circulation. Indeed, many banknotes possess several of these anti-counterfeiting devices. What is extraordinary in the case of the Government of Hong Kong's 10 dollar note from 2002-2005 is the simply overwhelming number of security features on a smaller denomination banknote. As a test-bed for anti-counterfeiting, a more attractive and technically sound example would certainly be difficult to find.












1. Yam, Joseph. "Hong Kong's New Ten Dollar Note." HKMA. September 12, 2002. Accessed February 4, 2015. 2. Belousov, Alexey. "Methods of Image Reproduction." In Security Features of Banknotes and Other Documents: Methods of Authentication, 56-57. Moscow: Intercrim-Press (Russia), 2012.
3. Belousov, Alexey. "Security Properties of Paper." In Security Features of Banknotes and Other Documents: Methods of Authentication, 14-21. Moscow: Intercrim-Press (Russia), 2012.
4. Belousov, Alexey. "Security Properties of Inks." In Security Features of Banknotes and Other Documents: Methods of Authentication, 36-41. Moscow: Intercrim-Press (Russia), 2012.

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