An Altered State Of Mind: Examining An Altered People’s Bank Of China 100 Yüan Note

PMG Grader Adam Howerton & Finalizer Bruce Thornton collaborate to shed light on the potential dangers of altered Chinese banknotes.

With the continued growth and development of the market for collectible Chinese currency, the promise of financial gain can often lead the miscreants amongst us to attempt to mislead collectors by altering the appearance of more common banknotes in the hopes of passing them off as more desirable and rare varieties. In cases where nearly identical designs are used across multiple issues, the areas in which a con artist must focus his or her efforts to alter the appearance of a banknote are greatly reduced as entire portions of the design do not need to be reproduced.

One such case is the People’s Bank of China 100 Yüan note dated 1980 (CHN889a) and 1990 (CHN889b) which features members of the “Long March” on the face and a picturesque landscape highlighting the starting point of the “Long March” on the back. While the 1990 variety of this note is fairly common – currently trading for about $60-$70 in PMG Gem Uncirculated 66 EPQ on eBay at the time this article is being penned – the 1980 variety is notably more desirable and considerably more scarce with a PMG 66 EPQ selling in the 2015 CICF auction for over $200. The value of an authenticated specimen of this banknote is over $600.

The grading team at PMG recently examined one such 1990 100 Yüan note which had been expertly altered to resemble a 1980-dated specimen note. Altered banknotes are seen in the collectable currency market with some regularity and the grading team wanted to share some useful observations in the detection of such alterations. To the untrained eye, relatively little – if anything at all – appears to be out of place with the altered note other than the presence of various red overprints which signifies that note is a specimen variety (Figures 1 & 2) when compared side-by-side to the genuine and normally issued variety for 1980 (Figures 3 & 4).

Figure 1 – The front of an altered People’s Bank of China
1980 100 Yüan (CHN889) specimen note.
Figure 2 – The back of the same altered CHN889 specimen as in Figure 1.
Figure 3 – The face of an authentic 1980 100 Yüan note (CHN889a).
Figure 4 – The back of the same note as in Figure 3.

Under careful and directed scrutiny, however, distinct and troubling issues can be observed in several areas. One indicator to check in regard to determining the authenticity of a 1980-date note versus a 1990-dated note is the presence or absence of ultraviolet-reactive ink in the bottom area of the watermark strip to the left end of the note. It is known that “YIBAI” – or “Hundred” in English – appears in a yellowish tint on genuine 1990 notes (Figure 5), while there is no indication of ultraviolet-reactive ink at all in the same area on genuine 1980 notes (Figure 6). In the case of the altered 1980-date specimen note, an immediate concern is raised under ultraviolet light (Figure 7).

Figure 5 (left) – Genuine ultraviolet-reactive ink on a People’s Bank of China
1990 100 Yüan (CHN889b). Figure 6 (right) – The same area on a genuine
1980 100 Yüan note (CHN889a) under ultraviolet light.

Figure 7 – Dulled ultraviolet-reactive ink
on the altered note pictured
above in Figures 1 & 2.

Close inspection of the date – located on the back of the note – on genuine pieces reveals “feathering” into the surrounding design as the result of high-speed intaglio printing processes. Additionally, genuine examples show sharp and even lines in the lithographed print found under the date (Figures 8 & 9). On the other hand, the altered note shows areas of uneven lining in the underprint and misshapen numerals with far too clean edges in the date – indications showing that the last two digits of a 1990-dated note were removed then the underprint and spurious date added (Figure 10).

Figures 8 & 9 – Details on dates of a genuine CHN889a & CHN889b. Note the sharp & even
lines of the underprint as well as the “feathering” along the edges of the intaglio-printed dates.

Figure 10 – Detail on date of altered note.
Note the uneven and crude lines in the
underprint as well as the lack of
“feathering” on the edges of the date.

When held under direct top-down lighting and viewed edge - on the serial number of this wayward note is a serial number that has been altered to resemble the generic serial numbers found on specimen banknotes. This is often composed entirely of zeros and some specific prefix and/or suffix combination. When viewed in the manner described above, one is nearly able to determine the precise serial number that once resided on this banknote prior to the work done to alter its appearance (Figures 11 & 12).

Figures 11 & 12 – Details of alteration to the serial number of the note described above.

Indeed, viewed at the correct angle we can simultaneously observe the authentic but altered serial number with the false serial number appearing faintly (Figure 13).

Figure 13 – Detail of serial number
simultaneously revealing the alteration work
done and the generic serial number
added to pass the note off as a specimen.

Furthermore, when viewed under magnification, the altered serial number exhibits many of the same characteristics (Figures 14 & 15) of the altered date described above when compared to the same areas on a genuine example (Figures 16 & 17).

Figures 14 & 15 – Details of the serial number on the altered note.

Figures 16 & 17 – Details of the serial number on a genuine note.

Given the quality of the work undertaken to modify this note, it is entirely feasible that this altered specimen could pass as the genuine article when a collector is presented only with images such as those found on countless online listings (Figures 1 & 2). When carefully evaluated by the PMG grading team, however, several areas of concern can be observed. Considered individually, any one of these issues is enough to raise concerns about the authenticity of the piece. Taken as a whole, the evidence that this particular note has been altered is undeniable.

PMG is an independent member of the Certified Collectibles Group (CCG).

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