Bureau of Engraving and Printing officials confirmed Sept. 7 that
in 1998 as many as 40,000 sheets of Federal Reserve notes were printed
on a polymer substrate known as DuraNote.
All of those sheets were evaluated by BEP officials and destroyed,
a BEP spokeswoman said Sept. 7.
Coin World articles covering the BEP’s experimentation with a
polymer substrate date back to 1997, but BEP officials had never
provided specific details about the type of polymer substrate or the
number and denomination of any FRNs printed on the substrate.
The BEP confirmed the use of DuraNote after Coin World
became aware of 14 Canadian specimen notes printed on DuraNote
substrate in the late 1980s that are being offered in an Oct. 2
auction conducted by Spink in London (see page 73 for details).
Coin World’s search for more information led to an
article in the August 1998 issue of Mobil World, a now defunct
employee magazine published by Mobil Oil, that told the story of how
the Mobil Films Division produced a polymer film used to print test
notes for various countries.
The article stated that Federal Reserve notes were being printed
in the United States using the DuraNote polymer substrate Mobil had
created in association with AGRA Vadeko, a Canadian firm.
According to the article, “1,000 sheets of bank notes for the
United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing” had been printed by
the time the article was written, and Mobil Oil officials expected
another 20,000 sheets to be printed for the BEP during the remainder
of the summer of 1998.
“The qualification process for acceptance as the substrate for a
nation’s currency typically takes three to four years,” noted the
article. “DuraNote substrate is about halfway through that period in
the United States, as well as being in test printings in 28 other countries.”
BEP and polymer
In June 1997, BEP officials confirmed to Coin World they
had experimented with what they described as a “new petroleum or
plastic-based substrate instead of the cotton-based substrate” as a
substitute on which FRNs could be printed.
BEP officials said they had been studying Australia’s 1988
conversion to a plastic polymer for a special commemorative note.
In 1998, the BEP’s solicitation for paper included a provision to
consider bids for an alternative substrate, such as plastic, from a
manufacturer that wanted to offer a paper made from something other
than the standard 75 percent cotton, 25 percent linen mix used for
printing Federal Reserve notes.
As Coin World reported in past articles, a basic polymer
substrate begins as a roll of clear plastic film. The film is then
specially coated to accept different security devices directly
embedded into the substrate. The different coatings make the substrate
opaque and allow layers of sophisticated security devices to be added.
Once the printing is complete, an overcoating of clear varnish is
applied to the finished note.
During a March 1998 House Banking Subcommittee hearing about the
threat of counterfeiting by personal computer and scanner, the topic
of using a polymer substrate was raised. Thomas A. Ferguson, then
acting director of the BEP, testified that the BEP was studying
additional security features, including incorporating a polymer
substrate, for Federal Reserve notes.
He stated that even though notes printed on polymer substrate
could be produced on the equipment currently in use by the BEP, it was
premature to characterize polymer as superior to currency paper for security.
When asked by the subcommittee if the BEP was considering plastic
notes, such as used in Australia and Thailand, Ferguson responded that
they were under consideration. He noted that plastic notes cost about
twice as much to produce as paper, but notes printed on plastic last
many times longer than paper notes.
Following the congressional hearing and subsequent media coverage,
the BEP experienced a spate of telephone calls from the public wanting
to know when they could expect to see “plastic” currency in
circulation. BEP officials said then, and continue to say, that no
decision has been made about using a polymer substrate in the future.
In the early 1960s a crisis started the nation of Australia on the
journey from paper to polymer. Australia’s currency was changed from
the British pounds system to a decimal system. Shortly after issuing
the first dollar-denominated notes in 1966, note counterfeiting increased.
In response to the counterfeiting problems, Reserve Bank of
Australia officials along with Note Printing Australia, a division of
the bank that prints Australia’s notes, began to study alternatives to
That began a nearly 20-year research project between the RBA and
NPA. Eventually the decision to convert to a polymer substrate was
made. In 1988 Australia’s first polymer note rolled off the presses.
Securency, an Australian company, makes the polymer substrate used
to print Australian bank notes as well as bank notes for nearly 30
In addition to increased security benefits, RBA and NPA discovered
that bank notes printed on polymer have these features:
➤ They don’t get dirty as easily as paper notes.
➤ They have a longer circulation life than paper notes, being less
vulnerable to repeated folding of the notes.
➤ They can accept a variety of security devices that are not
possible to use on paper notes.
➤ They can be recycled for other uses beyond being shredded and
added to a landfill.
The first of Australia’s polymer bank notes was a $10
commemorative note issued in 1988 to mark the 200th anniversary of the
establishment of the colony of New South Wales in Sydney Cove.
Abandonment of paper took less than a decade to complete.
In 1996, Australia became the first country to issue all
denominations of notes on polymer. Since then many other nations have