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Green Currency Could be the Color of the Holidays

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the updated designs and counterfeit detection technology being used on new U.S. currency. Evidently, that didn't sit well with one or two people in Washington, D.C. I received a letter from a representative of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing admonishing that I had been incomplete in describing some aspects and anti-counterfeiting devices incorporated into some of the new paper money.

That didn't surprise me. Some papers may edit my column and a detail or two might be omitted. More to the point, there are so many anti-counterfeiting aspects on some of the new bills that I would have a hard time fitting them all into one column.

All that consternation made me long for the days when U.S. currency didn't need watermarks, micro printing, hidden plastic strips and other technology to make them difficult to reproduce. Not long ago — before the days of scanners, printers and high-tech copiers — the detailed engravings alone were enough for wanna-be counterfeiters to think twice before trying to scam people with fake bills.

I was reminded of that with the release of a new book, which may fit in nicely with my quest to offer good options for holiday gifts. For years, "Paper Money of the United States" has been a numismatic staple for collectors of U.S. currency. Now, it's even better.

For anyone interested in history, the 328-page hardbound volume chronicles every bank note printed since our country began. If that sounds slightly dull, consider this: On those rare occasions when you've found an older bill, haven't you wondered what it might be worth? Better, imagine you run across a 150-year-old bill between the pages of an old book. It happens more often than you might think. If that one small piece of paper might be able to pay off your mortgage, how interested would you be?

Collecting vintage U.S. currency has never been greater with higher prices. Part of the reason is the rarity of classic U.S. bills. Equally compelling is the intricate engraving in our early paper money. The detail and color is nothing short of artistically phenomenal. And that color is what's better in the newest edition of the book. For the first time, every image of each bill in "Paper Money of the United States" is in full color. Compared to the old black-and-white images, the bills in the book now literally come to life.

As I mentioned, the book isn't just a comprehensive guide to the value of old paper money — though it does that admirably. It's literally a walk through U.S. history.

One contemporary example is counterfeiting. As I said, there are countless features in today's bills to try to thwart counterfeiting. There are also laws. If you are caught counterfeiting, you currently face 15 years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine. In the 1860s, the jail time was the same, but the fine was just $1,000. That wasn't the case for the paper money of the colonial area around 1776. Printed on many of those bills was the admonition, "To Counterfeit is Death." No political correctness or gray area there. I like that. And yes, color was amazingly used in some of those bank notes.

The Civil War is also nicely chronicled through paper money — both from the Confederate and Union sides. In both cases, and with minimal technology available, the details crafted onto the money is nothing short of astonishing.

You may say, "OK, I'll never own anything that valuable." Considering that some of the bills are very rare and valued in the thousands of dollars you may be right. But what about modern errors? One chapter in the book addresses money as recent as last year that's misprinted. Those bills are occasionally found in change; they can be worth tens or thousands of times their face value. If you know what to look for, it can pay off many a mortgage.

No matter what paper money you have (or wish you did), it's listed with the value in the newest edition of "Paper Money of the United States."

This year, I've received some mail-order catalogs that advertise tree ornaments into which paper money can be placed for gifts this holiday season. I suppose that's one way to "celebrate the season," but I'm a fan of knowledge and the philosophy of "what if?" For that, this book delivers.

It's available for $49.50 at larger coin dealers. Or get it from the publisher by phone at 1-888-471-1441 or visit www.papermoneyoftheus.com.

To find out more about Peter Rexford and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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