Counterfeit Detection: Woodcut Confederate Counterfeits

Posted on 2/16/2021

The PMG team discovers a woodcut Confederate counterfeit with many noticeable flaws.

The 1860s were a very turbulent time in American history, and one area in which that truth is reflected is in some of the banknotes that were produced during that time. In order to fund its part of the Civil War, the Confederate States of America needed to produce its own currency in large quantities. As a result, the Treasury Department decided to print many of its notes using mostly lithographic (rather than intaglio) processes, resulting in a faster output, but lower printing quality.

Within genuine Confederate banknotes, there exists a wide range of irregularities, all caused by perfectly normal variations in the lithography process. Unsurprisingly, counterfeiters jumped at the chance to capitalize on those inconsistencies and began turning out their own banknotes in the hopes that the general public would be fooled. After all, if two genuine notes could look considerably different from one another, who was to say that a slightly cruder piece wasn’t also genuine?

To be sure, some contemporary counterfeits were better executed than others, but the one we will be looking at today is certainly far from high quality. Below are two images: one of a genuine note graded by PMG (Criswell Type 31), and one of a counterfeit equivalent that we recently received.

Genuine Criswell Type 31 Note Graded by PMG
Click image to enlarge

Counterfeit Note
Click image to enlarge

Even at a glance, the differences stand out quite clearly: The amount of detail in the genuine far exceeds that in the counterfeit.

Our counterfeit is actually one step below lithography in terms of quality: it is a woodcut print, which is produced by a relief printing technique using a wooden block. The result is a very flat, crude image made up of thick lines — a far cry from the thin, precise lines used in intaglio printing. A few close-up images of the counterfeit note are below:

Close-up image of woman in center vignette — note the poor detail on the face
Click image to enlarge

Close-up image of the denomination in the lower left; the “Southern Bank Note Company” imprint below it looks very sloppy and uneven
Click image to enlarge

Close-up image of false signature
Click image to enlarge

Seeing the two notes side-by-side, it is hard to imagine mistaking the counterfeit for a genuine. In fact, counterfeits of the Type 31 note were often used more as souvenirs or novelties, primarily sold to customers in the North. The most well-known of these are the so-called “Upham Counterfeits,” produced by Samuel Upham, which are usually identified as facsimiles in the bottom margin of the note. With so many inconsistencies amongst genuine notes (albeit different types), the counterfeiter may well have succeeded!

Though this note is not a genuine piece of Confederate currency, PMG will still grade and encapsulate contemporary Confederate counterfeits. This counterfeit, along with any other banknote graded by PMG, will be backed by our PMG Guarantee of grade and authenticity.

To learn how to receive PMG's free monthly newsletter via email, visit

Stay Informed

Want news like this delivered to your inbox once a month? Subscribe to the free PMG eNewsletter today!


You've been subscribed to the PMG eNewsletter.

Unable to subscribe to our eNewsletter. Please try again later.

Articles List