Security specialist puts his bank-note talent to
philanthropic bills
By RICHARD FERRARA, Special to the Daily News - Sunday, February 3, 2002

 Robert Bednar, a Pennsylvania native, spent 25 years making American documents foolproof. Now he's hoping to have fun, and inspire philanthropy, with all the tricks he's developed.  Bednar is a document security specialist, devising secret identifying marks for documents for the U.S. Treasury and bank-note companies that make stock certificates, passports and stamps. Incorporating devices such as invisible fluorescent fibers, chemically sensitive paper and "optically dead pulp" ?which remains dark under ultraviolet light, offering a distinctive silhouette ?Bednar has developed over the years a variety of ways to protect official papers against counterfeiting. 

Shortly before he retired in 2000, Bednar came up with an idea to put all that knowledge of bank notes and counterfeit business to use in a creative way. He started producing his own bank notes.
"What made me feel good was when I would write a check to a charity, no matter how small the check was," said Bednar, of Naples. "And what I was good at was the bank-note business, the paper security, and so forth. 

"So I took these ideas home with me and sat down on the beach looking out on the gulf thinking, 'Why couldn't I create an art piece and attach it to a charity and see if there was some way I could use this art piece to raise money for charities?'" Why not, he decided, design bank notes resembling real currency that made more artistic use of the medium and also provide a product for collectors and the potential of raising funds for charitable organizations? His notes ?trademarked Banknote Art ?commemorate significant historical events or honor notable personalities and specific organizations, employing every trick in the trade to be sure each note is laden with hidden secrets and unique security features. 

"Usually bank notes are pretty dull. But there are some smaller foreign countries that use beautiful colors for their bank notes, and I think our stuff has gorgeous colors. That's what we're trying to do, show by color that there's a big difference in what we do," said Bednar. 

The talent behind the artistic design of the bank notes is Christopher McCauley, an artist who designed notes for the American Banknote Co., a main source of U.S. stock certificates, bonds, checks and other prints. 

Engravings are done by Richard Baratz, a stamp and currency engraver who, among other things, engraved the stamp honoring the 25th anniversary of the lunar landing. 

Bednar says Baratz's precision, finely lined engravings are the result of "two irreplaceable instruments ?his forefinger and his thumb." "He does that all by hand," he emphasized. 

Bednar's own contribution is an expertise in security detail that has given him work in what he jokingly refers to as his retirement. Only last week, he says, he met with Guatemalan election officials to incorporate security devices into the country's ballots to prevent a widespread problem with fraud. 
With his Naples Bank Notes, however, the work is more fun. 

Bednar is an alumnus of the University of Scranton, where he is on the board of trustees, but one of his first pieces of Banknote Art was the Penn State Million note. It was an idea of his wife, Barbara, a Penn State alumna; 60 percent of the note's proceeds go toward his and his wife's Penn State scholarship fund. 

The centerpiece of the note is an image of the college's mascot, the Nittany Lion, but strewn covertly around its face are all kinds of relevant numbers, ultraviolet images and symbols. For instance, hidden within the lathe work is the number "1955" and an atomic symbol, referencing the date of President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program: Penn State was the first university federally licensed to operate a nuclear reactor. The serial number of the note ? 97498 ?represents the largest crowd ever to gather in the school's Beaver Stadium. Tidbits like these are just a few of the details that Bednar loves to incorporate into his notes. 

"Why put all these things in there? My answer to that is because I want to," said Bednar. "For 25 years I had to be very quiet about what I did, and I couldn't talk about any of these things. But now I can, and people have to know how many features are in these bank notes and how neat it is.  "I do a lot of background info on my project before I begin," Bednar said. 

"Then I pretty much tell Chris what's in my head, then he comes up with the design and refines it. We decide after that just what the engraving is going to be, then we go to Richard Baratz and he goes to work on getting it engraved. So I tell the two of them what I want and they do most of the talking during the process. It usually takes about five or six weeks." Baratz and McCauley both live near Philadelphia, which makes conferring on the project convenient. Bednar usually stays in contact by phone and meets with his team on occasion.  Bednar also explained some of the features he uses to authenticate his bank notes.  "I really like the microprinting. Really good microprinting is hard to do. 

Not only that, but when you copy it, it comes up as a broken or distorted line, so it's a very good security feature. I also like the polyester thread in the paper. I think we're the first commercial company in the U.S. to be able to put thread in a paper." Of all his bank notes, Bednar is most proud of one he created in honor of fallen firefighters, called "Our Everyday Heroes." 

After the release of "Our Everyday Heroes" Bednar came up with another design depicting six firefighters called "The Worcester Six." in commemoration of another famous firefighter event of historical significance. 

Bednar also produced 70 pieces of his Banknote Art for the local International College to help with its "Carry the Torch" fund-raising campaign. The note shows the college's tower with its pyramid-like Carreras sculpture in the foreground. Portions of the note are laced with "Laser Lock" ink, only visible through the use of a special laser pen. Bednar donated the notes at no charge to the college.
"I was just amazed when I saw them," said Louis Traina, International College's vice president of institutional advancement. "The security on these is far superior than our actual currency." Just for fun, Bednar hid Traina's name in the artwork. "I know he's got my name in there somewhere, I just haven't found it yet. I think I need a magnifying glass," Traina laughed. 

Other creations from the Naples Bank Note Co. include a commemorative Million Euro note (one of the company's trademarked "Banknotables"), a commemorative of race-car driver Dale Earnhardt and a bank note in honor of golfer Arnold Palmer. Banknote Art is usually sized 11 by 14 inches, convenient for a frame or collector's book. Pictures and information regarding Banknote Art and Banknotables can be found at the company's Web site, 

Bednar said he is dedicated to seeing that his bank notes are recognized for their charitable value. He has a patent pending for Banknote Art as a fund-raising tool. He knows he may get skepticism for handling the bank-note endeavor as a company, but the outgo has far surpassed the income so far. 

"And if I charge $30 to someone for a bank note, they still can make $60 or $80 or $100 for one," Bednar said. "I think that once this idea takes off, there's no way that people who want to help charities out can ignore this as a fund-raiser," said Bednar. "I'm hoping that people start to take an interest in what I'm doing, and maybe someone will even come forward and champion it somehow." 

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