Counterfeit Detection: Real Notes, Fake Overprints

Posted on 4/16/2019

Genuine Fezzan notes are relatively rare, and many forgeries are out there waiting to hoodwink unsuspecting collectors.

Detecting a fake note can be a very difficult business. Graders must look closely at print type, paper quality, and minute details in the design that could indicate something is wrong. However, even after a note itself is determined to be genuine, there are still dangers waiting for unsuspecting collectors. One example of such trickery can be found in the forgeries of Libyan Fezzan notes (Pick numbers M9 through M11).

In 1942, during World War II, the Free French forces took over the region known as Fezzan, which had previously been under Italian control and is now a province of modern-day Libya. Rather than print up entirely new notes for the region during their occupation, the French forces instead stamped rectangular “R F FEZZAN” overprints on existing French West African currency for use in Fezzan. At the time, the decision surely made economical sense, but unfortunately, collectors now face a serious problem: the overprint is easy to mimic, and the original French West African notes are relatively easy to find and inexpensive when compared to the Fezzan notes, making forgeries distressingly common.

Below is an image of a genuine Fezzan note (Libya Pick# M9) that was recently graded by PMG:

Libya, Banque de I'Afrique Occidentale, Pick# M9, ND (1936-38), 5 Francs,
PMG Graded 40 Extremely Fine
Click image to enlarge.

This is a 5 Franc note dated March 10, 1938, and the stamp was determined to be genuine by PMG specialists. Graders had to pay very close attention to the shape of the letters, the height of the stamp, and various other factors before making their determination. After careful deliberation, they felt confident authenticating the piece and encapsulating it in a PMG holder.

By contrast, the 100 Franc note below (Libya Pick# M11) was determined to have a fake Fezzan stamp:

Libya, Pick# M11, 100 Franc note with fake Fezzan stamp
Click image to enlarge.

The note itself does appear to be a genuine French West African note (Pick# 23), and at a distance the stamp is very similar to the genuine stamp shown earlier, but upon closer inspection, something seems a bit off about the print type…

Close-up of Libya, Pick# M11, 100 Franc note
with fake Fezzan stamp
Click image to enlarge.

Close-up of Libya, Pick# M11, 100 Franc note
with fake Fezzan stamp
Click image to enlarge.

Note the way the ink is pooling on the surface of the note rather than sinking into the paper, and how the little particles of ink are escaping around the edges of the letter. These are characteristics of inkjet printing. Right away, our graders knew that this overprint was a modern forgery—after all, inkjet printers were not exactly available during the Second World War!

Another example, this time of a 25 Franc note (Pick# M10), is shown below:

Libya, Pick# M10, 25 Franc note with fake Fezzan stamp
Click image to enlarge.

The bad overprint here is much easier to spot from a distance: it’s far too neat in comparison to a genuine, and the font on the letters is slightly different. Just to be safe, though, let us look a bit closer…

Close-up of Libya, Pick# M10, 25 Franc note
with fake Fezzan stamp
Click image to enlarge.

In the image above, one can easily see that this overprint was applied using inkjet. Note the multicolored shadow around the right edge—this is a characteristic of tricolor inkjet printing, which overlaps cyan, yellow, and magenta ink to produce black. There is also a distinctive “stair-step” pattern on the edges of the curves and diagonal lines, which occurs sometimes when printing using a digital method, but would definitely not occur when using a stamp. Again, the graders marked this note as altered.

Genuine Fezzan notes are relatively rare, and forgeries much more advanced than the ones shown above are out there waiting to hoodwink unsuspecting collectors. However, one can rest assured that PMG graders will take every precaution in authenticating the notes that we encapsulate, overprints and all. As such, any note encapsulated by PMG is backed by the PMG Guarantee of grade and authenticity.


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