Counterfeit Detection: Phony Specimens Are of No Value

Posted on 10/15/2019

It is not uncommon to find notes that have been altered to look like specimens in an attempt to deceive unwary collectors.

Whenever a new banknote comes into circulation, a certain number of “Specimen” notes are created and submitted to banks in order to help them recognize genuine currency. These specimens will match the issued notes precisely, with all the accompanying security features, though they will usually have a generic serial number (commonly all zeroes) and some distinct markings to distinguish them from an issued note.

One such marking that is frequently seen is the phrase “Specimen of no value.” But for collectors, this is hardly true: Indeed, because there are a limited number printed, specimen notes are oftentimes worth much more than their issued counterparts. As a result, it is unfortunately not uncommon to find notes that have been altered to look like specimens in an attempt to deceive unwary collectors.

Below is an image of a supposed specimen note that was recently sent to PMG for grading:

Note altered to appear to be a specimen.
Click image to enlarge.

As you can see, there is no specimen overprint, but the all-zeroes serial number would normally indicate that the note is a specimen. However, upon closer inspection, the graders noticed that something looked a bit odd about the serial number…

Close-up of note altered to appear to be a specimen note, with scuffing
in the underprint beneath the serial number and blurry edges in the zeros.
Click image to enlarge.

Note the scuffing in the underprint beneath the serial number, and the slightly blurry edges of the zeroes. In general, these are red flags, indicating that something may have been done to disturb the ink in this area. However, we will have to look a bit more closely before we can say for sure what, exactly, has been done…

Close-up of note altered to appear to be a specimen, with higher magnification.
Click image to enlarge.

Higher magnification shows another suspicious indicator: traces of black ink are showing up in the underprint. While this could be a foreign substance or a slight ink smudge, it is now seeming more and more likely that the all-zeroes serial number is not original to the note.

Close-up of note altered to appear to be a specimen, under UV lighting.
Click image to enlarge.

Close-up of note altered to appear to be a specimen, under UV lighting.
Click image to enlarge.

Under UV, the problem becomes much clearer. We can now see the remains of other Arabic numerals below the zeroes—in particular, there is a very clear Arabic eight (٨) showing up by the fifth digit on the right serial number. Upon seeing this, the graders were able to say with certainty that there was once another serial number here, which was removed and replaced with all zeroes to mimic a specimen note. Our “specimen” was, in fact, an altered issued note all along—and therefore, one of the few true cases of a specimen “of no value.”

As always, all notes encapsulated by PMG are backed by the PMG Guarantee of grade and authenticity.


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