United States paper money is printed on secret mixture of fabric and other ingredients to produce its authentic feel and the durability to withstand constant circulation. There is no starch within the paper unlike newsprint or office paper. Counterfeit pens detect the presence of starch on the surface of questionable notes, and if it exists, the telltale fail color is seen (note, there are occasional false positives and some pens are not formulated correctly to test older paper money).
What is India Paper once used by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing?
According to U.S. Essay, Proof, and Specimen Notes by Gene Hessler, India paper is defined as “Another name for Chinese paper, India paper is made of bamboo fiber, it is handmade and varies in thickness. India paper is think, soft, absorbent and opaque and is almost always mounted on cardboard to receive proof impressions”.
Hessler’s book also serves as the identification guide for all known essay, proof, and specimen notes. It is frequently referenced at major auctions including those organized by Lyn Knight and Heritage Auctions.
Any *authentic* note (meaning it was printed by the government) on India paper is NOT legal tender, however it does have collectible value as an integral part of the paper money design and printing process.
What does it feel like?
The closest cousin to India paper most people can sample is probably tissue paper commonly used in gift boxes. The paper is thin and not crisp. It crinkles when balled up and makes a crackling sound. It is easily torn. The use of markers on this type of paper will usually result in “bleeding”; the effect of the ink failing to settle in the exact area it was written, seeping away and creating a blurry impression.
Without being mounted on cardboard, the paper itself is flimsy and easily ruined. That’s why B.E.P. officials in the 19th and 20th century had it mounted on cardboard.
If you believe you have an example of a B.E.P. proof, essay, or specimen and it is mounted on cardboard DO NOT attempt to separate the paper without first ascertaining if your note is genuine, and then consulting a currency expert. Amateur attempts to separate the two will almost always ruin the note.
Examples of Essay, Proof, and Specimen Notes on India Paper that have sold at Auction
Authentic examples of notes printed on India Paper can be rare and valuable. There are design examples on India paper for almost every type of United States currency: Legal Tenders, Silver Certificates, Gold Certificates, National Bank Notes, California Gold Notes, etc. Here are a three examples that sold at Heritage Auctions:
Authentic Proof and Specimen notes on India Paper – particularly the rare ones – will set you back a pretty penny. In some cases, the only known example of a Friedberg catalog ID is in fact a proof note, because no authentic notes remain extant.
Make sure you always give what appears to be an old banknote a close look before ignoring it as a replica piece. Some Proofs and Specimens like the ones pictured above lack serial numbers and signatures, which usually suggests a note is a fake. Before making that conclusion (which is correct in the vast majority of cases) examine the paper carefully, see if it is punch cancelled, and if mounted, make sure its presentation is consistent with Bureau of Engraving practices.
Find out more from U.S. Essay, Proof, and Specimen Notes by Gene Hessler – a great read, concise, and extremely informative.