Counterfeit Detection: Egypt 5 Piastres Uniface Notes

Posted on 9/21/2021

Counterfeiters occasionally go to great lengths to try to give themselves an edge.

Uniface notes have a design that is printed only on one side. While common in the early history of paper money, in modern times, uniface designs are mostly limited to Proofs (which are created as a design is being prepared for circulation) or Specimens (which serve as an example of a fully completed note design, often used by banks for reference.)

Uniface Proofs and Specimens can provide insight into how a banknote was created and issued, and they are sometimes the only examples (or only high-grade examples) of a particular note. Rare Proofs or Specimens can bring thousands of dollars at auction.

Paper Money Guaranty® (PMG®) recently received two uniface notes with the front and back design of a 1940 (ND 1997-98) Egypt 5 Piastres (Pick# 185). Examples of this particular Pick number generally carry little numismatic premium unless they have a fancy serial number or error. PMG has graded Proofs and Specimen Proofs of Pick# 185, but none of them are uniface. Obviously, these notes deserve extra scrutiny.

Uniface notes with the front (top) and back design of 1940 (ND 1997-98) Egypt 5 Piastres (Pick# 185).
Click images to enlarge

First, let’s take a look at the serial number. While most of the back of the note is in English (including the denomination of 5), the front of the note is in Arabic (including the denomination at the top left and right corners, where the oval represents a five in Arabic). The Arabic serial number translates to 871762.

Proofs generally have no serial number, and neither do many Specimens. When a serial number is present, it is typically a generic one, such as 000000. A serial number of 871762 is unexpected, because a banknote printer would not pick an otherwise-unremarkable number that might be printed in the middle of a sheet.

Neither the front nor back uniface note has any indication that it is a Specimen, which is often done with an overprint or perforation that says SPECIMEN. But the front note does have a watermark, and such a security feature is not something that is expected to be found on Proofs.

Close-ups of the uniface notes under special lighting.
Click images to enlarge.

PMG used special lighting to take a closer look at the surface of the notes. The lighting reveals some warping in the paper, especially around the edges.

The PMG grading team also observed that the texture and quality of the notes' paper resembled what would be expected after an alteration. They also noticed the paper seemed much too thin: about half the thickness that is expected.

All of this points to a stunning conclusion about this note: A counterfeiter has taken a genuine example of this note with printing on both sides and split it into two uniface pieces. The split was done right down the razor-thin edge of the note!

The technology to accomplish this does exist and is used by archival institutions to preserve very old paper documents that have printing on both sides. Putting the notes under another type of special lighting indicates there is something reacting at their edge, possibly a chemical that was used to help split them.

The uniface notes under special lighting.
Click images to enlarge

It is possible that this chemical also gave these notes their unexpected color: gray on much of the design with a yellow-green background. Genuine issued examples have a gray design with a peach background; the Proofs that PMG has certified have a peach design with a yellow background.

Genuine Pick# 185 and Pick# 185p3.
Click images to enlarge

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation™ (NGC®), which is the coin-grading affiliate of PMG, sometimes sees counterfeits that are formed by combining two halves of different coins. This is done because a date from the front of one ordinary coin and a mintmark from the back of another ordinary coin can be joined to give the appearance of a great rarity. One example is this purported Buffalo Nickel.

Collectors should be aware that counterfeiters will go to great lengths, even splitting coins or banknotes, in order to give the illusion that their work is actually a valuable collectible. Remember that coins and banknotes that are certified by NGC and PMG are backed by each company’s industry-leading guarantee of authenticity and grade.

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