Written by William Wolf, a free-lance journalist, Naples and Chicago
From the time he was a young lad, Bob Bednar was fascinated by money. It was more than what money could buy; more than the wealth it brings; and more than the security it represents; so he made a career of it. For twenty-five years, his job was selling the paper used for secure documents such as stock certificates, bonds, passports, traveler checks, coupons...and even currencies! As you can imagine, that responsibility allowed him to visit the most secure printing plants and government installations, and sell paper to these unique clients the world over.
All this led Bob in the year 2000 to start thinking about the introduction of Europe's first single currency, the Euro. Thus began one of his most memorable experiences, the creation of the One Million Euro Banknotable! His interests were in the paper-making and printing end of the notes. Most European countries had currency printing plants and secure paper mills. The thought of one country making the paper and another printing the paper was probably never considered because of the political aspects of such a program. So this meant that the paper made in one of a number of secure paper mills must exactly match paper made in other mills. And the printing would also have to match. This would certainly be a most daunting task, but one Bob did not really concern himself with.
He wondered whether it would be possible for someone to create a commemorative banknote which could look real and authentic in comparison to the notes to be issued by the Central Bank. Most collectors have seen so-called "fun" notes...usually poor quality, poor paper and photo-copy like in appearance. The notes Bob felt he could produce would have to be better than typical fun notes, but not so exact as to be confused with the real thing. Such an accomplishment might create a new market for collectors.
Could a lay person, collector or document security specialist design a note deserving of world currency status? Well, paper is the key; paper is the first thing noticed about any counterfeit bill. So if one wanted a truly neat looking note, paper is where it would start. Bob decided to develop his own paper.
Having sold paper for over a quarter century, he felt more qualified than most to design unique "banknote" paper. He knew about placing the fibers in the paper, the "mean" double fold, and the optical deadness of the paper stock, but the thread...like in U. S. currency...could prove to be a challenge; few paper mills have the ability to insert threads into paper.
From his involvement in document security seminars, Bob knew of a company which made polyester thread. He arranged for a meeting and told the owners about a special project to make commemorative notes that he would call "Banknotables." The notes would be printed like currency, have a multitude of security features, look and feel like real money but with a security thread; he wanted a thread that would be micro-printed, possibly with magnetic and invisible ink that would be fluorescent under ultra-violet light; and the thread was to be colored red. The company agreed to make the thread for a minimum amount which Bob thought was reasonable.
Then came the relatively easy part: the paper. Out of hundreds of paper mills in the United States, only one produces banknote paper with a thread. Every collector of paper money knows the firm; Bob did, too, but he felt his project would not be appreciated there. So he went to a security paper mill with which he had worked in the past and asked if it would make some paper using the special thread. This company had never tried to put a thread in paper before, but it wanted the opportunity to do so. A minimum amount of paper had to be purchased, so, for a price, the paper source was found.
About this time Bob became concerned that his twenty-five years of selling security papers legally might place him in danger of being considered a counterfeiter. So he began researching whether the European Central Bank had any laws or regulations which he might be breaking. Attorneys in Europe and the U. S. could find no such provision that would prevent commemorative notes from issuance. In fact, to be certain, Bob even contacted the ECB himself. After a while, a reply was finally received to the effect that commemorative notes such as Bob proposed do not "destroy the integrity" of the new, authentic notes.
Bob knew he had to make sure his design would not look too similar to any denomination of the Euro. Finding their designs was fairly simple because of the Internet. The highest note to be issued would be a 500 Euro with central themes. Now that he had the paper, it was time to locate a designer. An old banknote friend suggested a talented, young artist, Christopher McCauley, formerly of American Banknote Company. Chris had gone through American's apprenticeship program in less than the normal five years, and was looking for an opportunity to become more creative. Chris and Bob started designing the One Million Euro Banknotable based on the fact that it would represent the historical significance of the issuance of Europe's first single currency; their resulting notes would look and feel like a real Euro.
They wanted to memorialize all fifteen member nations with the central theme of unity, and would utilize rich color and employ normal banknote techniques (micro-printing, front to back register, fibers) and a few tricks known only to the "banknote" circle. Throughout his career as a document security specialist, Bob had always designed security paper with at least on "extra" feature and placed it in the paper unknown to any one else; his "Banknotables" would always carry those features.
Bob and Chris considered various color-copying and scanning methods, and designed the notes to incorporate printing techniques that would help to thwart most replication attempts. Since the paper of U. S. currency can be bleached to remove print, they figured theirs should be sensitive to an element that could prevent that. So, they added full chemical sensitivity to the micro-printed, threaded paper. Chemical sensitivity is not used in banknote paper because banknotes are never altered to change denomination, but such paper is found in passports, licenses, tickets, checks and the like. Documents of value, which can be tampered with, need chemical sensitively so that if the ink is removed by bleach, alcohol or solvents, a stain would appear and ruin the attempted alteration.
Next, proper presses had to be found...like an 8-color Heidelberg, a De la Rue Giori engraver and one to effect the numbering. And eventually they were. A week later, the first "One Million Euro Banknotable" was printed, followed by the minimum press run of about 170,000 Banknotables.
Some of the security features in Banknotables have never been seen before because they were newly created, thanks to unique design techniques. If one looks at the One Million Euro, observe the "B" logo imprint slightly on the left side of the face. On reverse side, the "B" is backward, so when the note is held to the light, the print disappears. This feature was interesting to produce; at first appearance, the "B" looks like a watermark. Most artificial watermarks are printed with oil or varnish, but Bob's "B" is ink, controlled in a way to barely appear. The "B" also fluoresces under ultra-violet light. While ultra-violet inks are commercially available, Bob's colors were specially made for Naples Bank Note Company.
Final cost to produce the minimum number of "One Million Euro" was about $90,000, to which had to be added packaging, legal fees, quality assurance and personnel...quite a costly total! Bob says, "I wanted to have the opportunity to take commemorative notes to a different level. There had to be a way to inspire younger people to start collecting. In my mind, I had hopes of doing just that!"
He continues, "Now when I wanted to do another commemorative, I knew how much it would cost to design and print an issue. I had plenty of paper left, but I needed a less costly way of printing without sacrificing quality, feel and security features." Research continued with copiers, presses, laser printers and scanner. Eventually, a less expensive way was found: All following notes would be produced by laser. The look and feel of Banknotables would remain good and the notes would seem authentic. It was also decided to hide certain facts and figures about the subject into the design. This preserves the "notable" information which collectors desire. Upon examining the notes, a number of security notes features will be found, thus assuring authenticity, increasing awareness of the subject and adding to the enjoyment of the notes.
For those who collect paper money seriously, "Banknotables" may not measure up to all requirements of authenticity...pieces of legal tender. But Bob's objective is to design collectible "fun" notes, which can provide enjoyment to the collector and further educate those who like paper money as a hobby.
The "One Million Euro" commemorative was introduced in March of 2001, ten months before the real Euros came out in January 2002. Since the issuance of the "One Million Euro" Bob has been contacted by charities wishing to use "Banknotables" to help thank donors and generate more funds for their causes. A number of organizations are now integrating banknote commemoratives into their programs.
Bob concludes, "So that's our story. I realize our art form, the Banknotable, may not be attractive to all collectors, but, quality-wise, it's sure a far cry from any other commemorative note! As of early 2003, we have designed over twenty-five notes for a variety of causes and helped dozens of charities raise funds. But mostly we're having fun!"
Bob Bednar was formerly Vice President for Document Security at Atlantic Paper Company, King of Prussia, PA. He is the founder and CEO of Naples Bank Note Company whose mission is to help charities and organizations become more successful in their fund raising. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.