Counterfeit Detection: Inverted Overprint Error

Posted on 10/20/2020

The PMG team was able to spot this counterfeit with a good loupe and basic knowledge of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing's printing process.

Before we begin diagnosing this error let’s review how a US Federal Reserve Note is printed. The paper (or substrate) is made at Crane Currency and has been since 1861. The substrate gets delivered in large pallets. Each sheet can fit 32 or 50 notes (depending on the denomination and series). The sheets are then feed into a printing press with the backs being printed first. This is known as the First Print. The notes will then be put aside for a few days to dry. Once dry, the sheets will get their Second Print – the black ink the front of the note. Again, it will take a few days to dry. Lastly, the notes will get their overprints which includes the District seal, Treasury seal and serial numbers. After which the notes will go through a guillotine to get cut down into singles, followed by the bundling and packaging the notes so they are ready for shipment to banks.

Fr. 1913-L
Click image to enlarge

Armed with this knowledge, we know that this error has been altered. “The United States of America” that is inverted was printed during the Second Print. The District seal was printed days later at a different station. There is no way that just “The United States of America” could be inverted without the rest of the Second Print also being inverted.

But, why take my word for it? Let’s grab a loupe and closely examine the inverted District seal.

Inverted District seal (left)
Click image to enlarge

At this magnification we can easily see the differences between the two District seals. If the inverted seal was genuine it would be printed using a letterpress print technology. Letterpress has the similar look of a type writer. With the edges of the seal showing a halo effect. This is very common. A halo is darker ink that extends around the edge of where the print ends.

An example of letterpress (notice the halo around each number)
Click image to enlarge

Likewise, the “Washington DC” that is inverted on the right image should be engraved. The text is wavy, inconsistent and isn’t anything like the “Washington DC” seen on the left image. The text on the left image is crisp, clean and straight.

Close up of the District seal in question (left)
Click image to enlarge

Here it is very easy to tell that these two District seals were not both printed with letterpress technology. The image on the left doesn’t have a halo like the one on the right. The inside letters aren’t as crisp either.

In this month’s example we didn’t have to use anything else besides our knowledge of the printing process and a good loupe. Sometimes that’s all you need to combat alterations.

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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