COUNTERFEITING, the making of imi tations or counterfeits of money, either paper or coin,— in an extended sense including some de grees of forgery and other cases of fraudulent imitation, as spurious trade-marks or dies. This is a crime heavily punishable by statute, and the United States government has legislated at con siderable length for its suppression. The pun ishment prescribed for imitating United States paper money is a fine of not over $5,000 and imprisonment at hard labor not exceeding 15 years; for counterfeiting coin, the penalty is a fine not over $5,000 and imprisonment at hard labor not exceeding 10 years; for minor coins of five cents and less, $1,000 fine and five years' imprisonment is the maximum. For having counterfeit money or counterfeit tools in pos session, or for counterfeiting post office locks, or for altering or reusing revenue stamps, sim ilar penalties are prescribed by statute. The United States laws on the subject may be found in the Revised Statutes, §§ 5413 et seq.
For the suppression of counterfeiting and enforcement of the laws on the subject, the United States has been divided into 10 secret service districts, in each of which officials are constantly working to detect passers of coun terfeit money and ferret out those who are engaged in its manufacture.
The paper money of the United States has been rendered very difficult of imitation by reason of the high character of the workman ship employed. The paper used includes colored silk threads, and as the manufacture of such paper for other purposes is prohibited, the counterfeiter must either control a paper mill, involving a very heavy investment, or must steal some government paper, or imitate the colored threads with colored lines written or printed. Pen-written lines are the usual form of imita tion of these, commercial paper being employed, the nearest to the government paper that the counterfeiter can buy. The engraving of the plates is of such high quality that there are usually not a dozen men in the country, outside of those engaged on the goverment notes, who are capable of executing good imitations, and these men are known to the secret-service, which keeps an eye on them and their associates. The printing is done in colored inks in order to prevent reproduction of the plates by pho tography, which would be comparatively easy if printed in black. These conditions, combined
with excellent work by the secret-service, have almost stopped the counterfeiting of United States paper money, and the temptation to counterfeit is still further reduced by the gov ernment's policy of changing the designs of the notes frequently and withdrawing the old paper from circulation, rendering it certain that a high-clats counterfeit would be driven out of circulation in a short time.
The success of counterfeiters is not so much due to the cleverness of their work as it is due to the ignorance and carelessness of the general public. A man who is not familiar with the distinctive ear-marks on the genuine money of the land cannot be expected to detect the coun terfeit presentment of them when they face him on spurious money; so that every man ought to make himself familiar with these distinctive ear-marks of real money— and he must do so if he would successfully protect himself against the skilful imitations and the cunning devices of the shrewd counterfeiters who infest the land and prey upon this species of popular ignorance.
Steel-engraving is a fine art, about which the general public knows next to nothing; and yet the possibility of detecting counterfeit paper money unerringly is bound up in the engraved features of its make-up. Of course, it is not contended that everyone must become a master of the engraver's art before he can successfully detect counterfeit money; but it is contended that he must make himself so familiar with the distinctive features of the genuine machine engraving on the national currency that he can distinguish it from spurious and imperfect imi tations of it. Nor is it a very difficult task. It can be done by anyone who will take the trouble incident to a proper study of the subject. The work executed by the government, as well as that which is executed by the banknote com panies, possesses great beauty in its art and exact perfection in its execution and finish. It is mathematically and geometrically exact in all its parts, while the spurious work of imitating counterfeiters is necessarily imperfect in these respects.