Counterfeit Detection: Is that “1” a fake?

Posted on 2/18/2020

This month’s article examines a US 50-cent note with design figures “1” and “a.”

Fractional currency was issued in the United States from 1862 to 1876 after banks stopped specie payments during the Civil War. Congress authorized paper money in denominations of 3, 5, 10, 15, 25, and 50 cents to help alleviate the resulting lack of coins in circulation.

The United States 50 Cent Note, Friedberg# 1344.
Click image to enlarge.

The note in question, a 50 cent United States note (Friedberg# 1344), has a “1” at the left center and an “a” near the bottom left corner. These notes were printed in sheets of 12 and the design figures were position indicators. The left column of the sheet had the “1” and the top row had the “a.” Only one note per sheet of 12 had both the “1” and the “a,” making this note rarer and therefore more valuable.

The “1” on the note in question, left, and on a note known to be genuine.

The “1” on this note looks different when compared to the “1” on a genuine example. The number is more elongated, the flag at the top is not at the same angle and it is missing the base.

A close-up of the “1” under specialized lighting.

The above image showing the embossing of the “1,” reveals that its different appearance did not result from wear. The embossing matches up with the visible number on the note, which does not match the “1” on a genuine note. PMG graders used this to determine that this note was altered.

This is another example showing that collectors should be especially watchful for alterations and counterfeits when evaluating rare notes. Collectors can trust that any note encapsulated by PMG is backed by the PMG Guarantee of grade and authenticity.


Friedberg, Arthur L. & Ira S. Paper Money of the United States. 20th Edition, 2013.

Kravitz, Robert J. A Collector's Guide to Postage & Fractional Currency. 2nd Edition, 2012.

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