The Feel of Money

The Federal Reserve System has the ability create virtual dollars with the stroke of a key. They also issue the physical bills of U.S. currency ($1, $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100). The actual manufacturing of the bills for the Fed is done by the federal Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just print up a bunch of $100 notes yourself? Well, the feds have already thought of that, and include an ever-growing array of features to make it hard to duplicate these bills.

Counterfeiting of dollar bills has a long history. Following a distasteful experience of runaway inflation with paper money during the Revolutionary War, the U.S. remained primarily on a gold standard for most of its existence. The first major issuance of paper money was in 1862, to help finance the Civil War. Counterfeiting of these bills soon became a major problem, with up to half the dollars in circulation being phony. A primary mission of the U.S. Secret Service when it was founded in 1865 was to combat counterfeiting.

During World War II, the Nazis in “Operation Bernhard” succeeded in producing enough counterfeit British money that the U.K. had to switch production of banknotes to a different format. The work was carried out by prisoners at concentration camps. Later in the war, the prisoners were tasked with counterfeiting U.S. currency as well. Due to the security features in the dollars, this was a more complex task. Also, the prisoners realized that their chance of being killed was higher after they succeeded in devising a process for making counterfeit dollars, so they slowed the work down as much as they could.  The $100 bill has been a frequent target of more recent counterfeiters, including the British Anatasios Arnaouti  gang and (allegedly) North Korea.

Modern U.S. currency includes numerous feature which make it difficult to duplicate. Only about 1 note in 10,000 in circulation is fake. You can click this link

The Seven Denominations | U.S. Currency Education Program

to zoom in on each of the seven denominations of U.S. currency and see the current security features for each one. The more valuable bills get more sophisticated. The $100 bill has color-shifted numerals and bell image, a 3-D security ribbon with shifting images of bells and 100s, a security thread which glows under ultraviolet light, and subtle watermarks. Magnetic features are also included.

But it turns out that one of the most reliable and hard-to-duplicate features of dollars is the feel in your fingers, a result of the material they are made from and the printing process which gives a 3-D texture:

Perhaps the most difficult-to-duplicate counterfeit deterrence feature of U.S. banknotes is its unique yellow-green paper, manufactured under close security by a single U.S. firm from a mixture of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent flax. When combined with intaglio-printed images and numerals, this gives the notes a unique “feel,” which surveys have reported is the most common method of counterfeit detection by the public and bank employees.

So, if you want your own $100 bills, it looks like you will have to earn them, or wait for the next stimulus check to arrive.