A Counterfeiter’s Thoughts on the New $100 Bill

100For only the fourth time in history there will be a new $100 bill. After a three year delay, the improved, high tech $100 bill that was seventeen years and 40 drafts in the making debuts on October 8. The note has been revamped three times alone in the last 20 years, as the Federal Reserve reacted to improved counterfeiting technology and thwart digital printing devices. The new bill is a culmination of a decade long research and design process, the Fed says. They claim the note is more colorful, more secure, easier to authenticate, but harder to replicate. The bill features a series of heightened security measures aimed at combating counterfeiters.

Most of the $100 bills in use today were designed in 1996. At the end of 2012, 8.6 billion $100’s were in circulation, according to the Fed. That bill was touted as being uncounterfeitable, but noted counterfeiter Arthur J. Williams, Jr. broke the 1996 bill shortly after it was introduced. The Daily Beast reached out to him in federal prison, where he is serving time on a second counterfeiting charge, to get his thoughts on the design and security measures of the new $100, and his expert opinion on whether it can be replicated.

Arthur J. Williams, Jr. who was profiled in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine in 2005, is the subject of the 2009 book, The Art of Making Money and an upcoming Paramount movie of the same name, featuring actor Chris Pine starring as Art. His counterfeiting escapades have been well publicized and the US Secret Service said Art’s forgery of the 1996 $100 was the best they had ever seen. Art grew up poor on the Southside of Chicago in gang infested neighborhoods and was introduced to the art of counterfeiting at a young age. “My mom’s boyfriend was an old time counterfeiter,” Art says. “He saw me gangbanging, breaking into cars, getting in trouble. He wanted to show me how to commit what he termed a gentleman’s crime; he wanted to show me a better way. He looked at printing as an art rather than a crime.”

With an apprenticeship in the old world craftsmanship of bank note design, Art embarked on painstaking trial and error test runs to hone his technique and through the process of elimination, he perfected his printing acumen and duplicated the 1996 bill. “The first thing I attacked in the 96 note was the paper, the security thread and the watermark,” Art says. “I embedded the thread and watermark in between two sheets of paper. Then I sprayed it with a special formula I made to give it a fresh, starch feeling that would counter the detection pen devices. The second thing was the shifting ink. When the 96 note was created the printing and engraving office used the shifting ink technology. The problem with that is the same company that made the ink, licensed it to other companies to use; House of Color uses it now. They sell car paint, spray paint, and paint for model airplane and cars.”

Art used a traditional offset printing technique for the images on the 96 bill, which he says wasn’t hard. But the new bill incorporates new anticounterfieting features, including the blue 3D security ribbon woven into the paper that uses 650,000 micro lenses to produce dancing 3D Liberty Bells and $100 numerals, making it nearly impossible to duplicate, the Fed says. A committee with representatives from The Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Fed, the Secret Service and the Treasury Department advised on how to foil counterfeiters, a key goal of the redesign. The current $100 not is a favorite of the foreign counterfeiters and Americans like Art, who combined new age digital technology and old world traditional methods to forge the bill.

The Fed also took other precautions to insure that what Art did couldn’t be done again. “To prevent what I did from happening again, the Fed uses Nano ink for the blue strip down the middle. Crane, who makes the paper for the bill, bought the Nano ink technology to embed it into the paper.” Art says. Crane and Company has provided the paper for US currency since 1879. “The problem with the new Nano ink,” Art says. “Is anyone can get on the US Patent, Trademark and Copyright website and do a patent search on Nano ink, and find out how the ink is made, so they can reproduce the same ink that is being used. The right chemist could reproduce the ink. That is the only way a counterfeiter could replicate that technology. In my opinion the only way to defeat the new bill would be to attack the paper and the blue strip embedded in the paper. That strip would have to be first.”

Art believes the new bill would be very difficult to duplicate, but it could still be done by using traditional counterfeiting techniques. “I will say the new 100 completely eliminates all the newer methods of printing, using computers, inkjet printers, laser printers and digital printers due to the Nano ink blue strip. Basically the blue strip eliminates all the amateurs. I think the blue strip is the only thing that will challenge the professional counterfeiter and the one who figures that out, will be the holy grail of forgers.” Art says. “As for reproducing the new 100, unlike what some have claimed, I believe the only way it could be reproduced is through traditional methods, offset printing, which only a few in the world still use, which includes governments like North Korea, Iran, Israel, Colombia- they make the best money right now.”

With the raised printing all over the bill, trickier watermark, life like Ben Franklin portrait, hologram like 3D security ribbon, more color shifting ink and other tech savvy measures, the Treasury believes they have a design that can’t be reproduced, but Art wishes they would have put more artistry into it. “Given my recent foray into painting the 1896 Educational series which includes the one dollar, two dollar and ten dollar bills, I look at the new hundred and I see the lack of artistic imagination. It is very plain and given that cash is being phased out, this may be the last time that the $100 is redesigned, due to the increased use of digital currency to conduct transactions through smart phones. I would have hoped that the Bureau of Engraving would have used more artistic imagination given the beauty of the old notes.” Art says. “For security purposes I give them an A+, but I believe anything a man makes can be reproduced, but is it cost effective?”