Counterfeit Detection: Altered 1862 Legal Tender

Posted on 9/17/2019

PMG has a team of experienced graders and equipment to catch alterations that can be difficult for the untrained eye to spot.

When a note is submitted to PMG, we perform two basic services: authentication and grading. If the note isn’t authentic then we will not encapsulate it. It is our task to always stay ahead of those seeking to deceive within the hobby. We do this by constantly learning the new tactics that are being used to falsify banknotes. In this case, the technology used to deceive is a little closer to new school than old.

Altered 1862 Legal Tender signed by Chittenden and Spinner.
Click image to enlarge.

Above is a Friedberg 124, 1862 Legal Tender signed by Chittenden and Spinner. Despite an estimated print run of 1,250,500, there are only about 60 notes known today. This exact note has been known since the 1980s. So, what’s the problem? Even notes that are in a known census need further inspection.

The first step in authenticating is to get a closer look at the serial number, vignette, counters, etc. PMG recommends at least a 10x-20x power loupe. The PMG grading team is looking at myriad things during this process — print technology used, quality, embossing, etc. In this case, the seal needs to be examined more closely.

Close-up of counterfeit seal.
Click image to enlarge.

Here is a close-up of the seal. Immediately we see some potential issues — namely, how muddy the shield is. The seal is supposed to be crisp and sharp, while this one in question is lacking some detail. Below is an example of another seal to give comparison. When in doubt always compare to a note that you know is genuine.

Close-up of non-counterfeit seal.
Click image to enlarge.

After further comparison we can see other differences. The first image (our note in question) shows more than one red, some pinks, purples and even some turquoise. If we zoom in, this is what we see.

Zoomed-in image of counterfeit seal.
Click image to enlarge.

Dots. Dots everywhere. This grid-like pattern is commonly referred as a half tone. For a more in-depth review of the many types of half tones, The Getty has an excellent article. This was not the print technology used in 1862. Rather, this is an example of a more modern technology, ink jet printing, which can be identified by the half tone and by stray ‘flyers’ found outside of the design. These flyers are little dots in the white area. This happens because an ink jet literally sprays the ink onto the paper. The above is an example of a very high-end printer, because it has minimal spray.

Why would someone print a seal on this otherwise genuine example? Most likely because the seal was faded, and this person decided to return the note to its original state. However, in the eyes of PMG, this is alteration, not preservation.

Identifying an alteration can be difficult to the untrained eye. Here at PMG, we have experienced graders and equipment to catch alterations. Collectors can be assured that any note encapsulated by PMG is backed by the PMG Guarantee of grade and authenticity.

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