Counterfeit Detection: Altered $2 Legal Tender Note

Posted on 7/20/2021

The serial numbers are the wrong color, but is this a genuine Wrong Color Ink Error?

Error notes have an enthusiastic following in the world of paper money collecting. But not everything that looks like an error is genuine. For example, the PMG grading team recently received this example of a 1953B $2 Legal Tender Note (Fr# 1511).

Altered 1953B $2 Legal Tender Note
Click image to enlarge

The serial numbers and seal ought to be a robust shade of red, but instead, they look sickly yellow. If it were genuine, this would be a rare and valuable Wrong Color Ink Error. Let’s take a closer look.

Close-up of altered 1953B $2 Legal Tender Note
Click image to enlarge

It is interesting that a small portion of the seal does appear to be the correct color. While it is possible for something to contaminate the ink at the printing facility and change its color, it would not produce the variation in color seen here. That’s because this note’s serial numbers and seal are created in a single pass using a single color of ink.

Altered 1953B $2 Legal Tender Note under special light.
Click image to enlarge

Special lighting provides some additional insight. While this particular note is not in terrific shape to begin with, notice that there is an area to the right of Jefferson’s portrait reacting differently to the light. This patch overlaps with the part of the seal that remained red, which indicates the bright areas around it were treated with some sort of chemical that altered the overprint color.

Close-ups of altered 1953B $2 Legal Tender Note under special light.
Click images to enlarge

It’s not clear why the person who altered the note left a small section untouched. It is possible that they were using a chemical to remove stains on the note, and the change in the color of the serial numbers and seal was accidental. If the surviving original color was left intentionally, perhaps it was meant to highlight the change in color. Whatever the reason, this note cannot be certified by PMG.

PMG does certify genuine Wrong Color Ink Errors, including this 1990 $50 Federal Reserve Note (Philadelphia). As you can see, the Federal Reserve District seal (at left) and the four Federal Reserve District numbers (“3”) appear in dark green, not the expected black. This particular note realized $900 at a Heritage Auctions sale in January 2020.

1990 $50 Federal Reserve Note (Philadelphia) with Wrong Color Ink Error graded PMG 35 Choice Very Fine
Click image to enlarge

If you want to make sure your banknote error is genuine, remember that the PMG Guarantee backs the PMG grading team's determinations of authenticity and grade.

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