Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What To Look For When Purchasing a Banknote: Part One: Pressing

Okay, so now that the Russia 1909 series is finished, I'm going to examine an aspect of banknote grading that all collectors should be aware of, and in fact I failed to notice (to my detriment) at the beginning of my collecting career: pressed notes.  By pressing, I mean the artificial manipulation of a banknote to increase its crispness and remove crease marks.  This process, while it might seem appealing, actually decreases the value and collectability of a note and should be avoided. Some unscrupulous dealers press notes so as to pass them off at a higher grade, and one must recognize when this is being done and stay clear. 

As I mentioned, I've personally suffered from a lack of experience in this matter when I purchases a Russian 500 ruble issue of 1912.  The note was advertised as being in 'XF+' condition (not a real grade, but dealers sometimes make up grades like this to stress that they believe the note is at the upper end of its grade).  I bought the note for $14, which is slightly below the catalog price of the note in 'VF'.  This alone should have tipped me off that something was amiss (trust me, if it seems too good to be true, it is, especially in the banknote business).  Initially very b=pleased with the crispness of the note and the lack of obvious creases, I took it home and set it aside.  Upon examining the note sometime later, I noticed what I can only describe as 'riges' in the paper, which I determined to be creases that had been pressed out of existence.  While the crispness of the paper had been restored (probably through a chemical aid in addition to being pressed) the signs of use were still there.  An obviously straightened dog-eared corner also served as a tip off. 

Upon purchasing the note, I failed to understand that crispness of paper could be artificially restored and thus neglected to look for other details that may have revealed to me sooner that everything was not as it seemed.  The moral of this story is as follows: always examine a note closely before purchase.  If some characteristics do not seem to 'fit' (such as the now straight dog-eared corner) be wary.  Also, if you think you're getting a great deal, you probably aren't.  Dealers make a living off of this business, and to do so, they probably know more about the notes they sell than the vast majority of collectors, especially beginning collectors. 

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