Crane has long history of fighting counterfeit dollaro

One of America’s oldest papermaking companies, Crane & Company is also the producer of the banknote paper for the US dollar. Here we take a look at the historical traditions behind this company that is leading the development of state-of-the-art technology to fight fake copies of the world’s most important currency.

Hugh O’Brian

Crane & Company is anything but a normal paper company. This historical family-owned papermaking group can trace it roots straight back to the American Revolution. Records in the Crane Museum of Papermaking in Dalton, Massachusetts, show that paper produced by Stephen Crane was sold to Paul Revere, the famous American patriot, in 1775. That was the year before the United States declared independence from Britain.

At the other end of the scale, if we fast-forward to the year 2004, Crane & Company is today the principal supplier of currency paper to the US Bureau of Engraving & Printing, which prints US dollars on behalf of the US Federal Reserve Bank. It is quite often said that the most difficult job for a counterfeiter is to get hold of the right paper. To keep ahead of counterfeiting efforts throughout the world, which have grown more widespread and easier due to the proliferation of high-quality color printers, Crane has become one of the world’s leading experts on security techniques for currency papers. In between these two poles, sometime in the mid 1800s, Crane also established itself as the producer of some of the world’s finest stationery papers.

Made from 100% cotton fibers, Crane papers are used by heads of state and many well-known personalities and companies in business, entertainment, fashion, sports and other areas. Crane & Company is located in the lovely area of Western Massachusetts known as the Berkshire Hills. With rolling hills, beautiful hardwood and softwood forests and numerous quaint towns such as Stockbridge, Lenox and Lee, the Berkshires are a very popular summer destination for people from nearby cities such as New York and Boston. The company is headquartered in the small town of Dalton, Massachusetts, which is just east of the city of Pittsfield.

PATRIOTIC ROOTS. The story is told that Stephen Crane originally had a paper mill in the Boston area in the late 1700s.

Crane’s company historian Peter Hopkins picks up the story. “Stephen Crane, who named his business “The Liberty Paper Mill,” was clearly a fiery patriot who was on the side of the Colonialists fighting for independence from Britain. He is known to have produced paper for the Massachusetts Colonial Government which was used for printing currency. This is the first connection we have between Crane and currency.”

Stephen’s son, Zenas Crane, also learned the papermaking trade with his family in the Boston area but decided at a very young age to leave Boston and eventually settled in Western Massachusetts. That was around 1799. There, in Dalton, he found the three things he needed for quality papermaking: cloth rags, water power and a fair sized population. The rags were of course the raw material for the handmade paper. They were beaten in mechanical vat beaters, which were powered by the waters of the Housatonic River which flows alongside the original Dalton mill. The population was needed both as a source of the old cloth rags as well as being potential buyers of the finished printing and writing papers. Thus in 1801 Crane & Company was founded, based mainly on linen rags as the raw material. The oldest samples of banknote papers that Crane still has come from 1806. These were issued by the Berkshire Bank in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. In fact, until 1862 there was no centrally printed US dollar. Banknotes with dollar denominations were issued by individual banks. In 1862, during the American Civil War, currency nationalization took place through which US dollars were centrally printed and issued. Continues Hopkins: “In 1879, Crane won its first contract with the Bureau of Engraving & Printing, and has been the paper supplier for all US dollars issued by the Federal Reserve Bank since then.”

COUNTERFEITING IS NOT NEW. As early as the 1840s Crane was using novel papermaking methods to thwart counterfeiters. There are examples from that time which show continuous threads embedded in the paper, with one thread for one dollar bills and two threads for two dollar bills and so forth. Other techniques used have included random fibers, fibers in lines, various colors, etc.

In 1928, the US dollar for all denominations was standardized on a new smaller size. Previous to this, there were various sizes used, with some of them much larger than today’s format. Thus from 1928 up until 1991 all dollar bills had essentially the same design for the greenback, as the US currency is commonly called. Essentially the product specifications for the US dollar were frozen during that time of more than 60 years.

In the late 1980s, as concern about possible counterfeiting in various parts of the world was rising, the Bureau of Engraving & Printing started looking at potential solutions.

As the US dollar is the world’s most important currency it is always critical that the efforts to fight counterfeiting are carried out in a low-profile manner, so they do not lead to panic or a loss of confidence in the currency.

SECRET SERVICE JOB. Even the United States Secret Service is involved. The Secret Service has two purposes. The first is to protect the US president. The other duty is to protect the US dollar by tracking down and prosecuting counterfeiters of the currency. As a long-term supplier to the Secret Service and the Bureau of Engraving & Printing, Crane is fighting it as well.

“Today,” says Tim Crane, the company’s Vice President of Research, Development and Security Technology, “we are seeing a different pattern to counterfeiting. Whereas in the past counterfeiters needed to invest in printing presses and pre-press equipment to produce false notes, today it is being done with PCs and cheap color printers and copiers by more people on a smaller scale. The profile of a counterfeiter today is much different than in the past, with more counterfeiters but fewer false notes produce per counterfeiter.”

PATENTED PROCESS. A sixth-generation member of the owner family, Tim Crane in 1991 led the development of a security strip method that was eventually adopted by the Bureau of Engraving. The patented process involves reverse printing of a metallized polyester strip and demetallization with the words US100, for example, printed in metal. Using a very precise and exacting process to get the strip embedded at exactly the right position in the x, y and z direction on the paper sheet, Crane was able to devise a banknote paper that carries a security feature that is invisible in reflected light, such as that used on a color copier. But when held up to a light source the security strip is clearly visible. Thus a person can simply hold it up to a light source to see whether or not it carries the security strip. If a fake bill is produced on a color copier, it will not carry the strip nor will the image of the US100 printing be visible when held up to a light source.

While the company is understandably not willing to say too much about the exact procedure used to ensure the correct placement of the film in the sheet, it is based on a multimillion dollar process control and monitoring system that includes digital cameras and analyzers needed to assure the quality. The keep ahead of counterfeiters, Crane & Company continues to devote considerable research and development efforts to come up with newer more secure methods to be able to differentiate true banknote paper from fakes. One method that is being looked at is the use of optically variable security images like holograms which will be even harder to imitate.

MOVE INTO EUROPE IN 2002. With Crane holding a strong position in the US for currency papers, but with limited ability to serve the international market from Dalton, Massachusetts, the company made a big move in 2002 through the acquisition of the Swedish national banknote printing and paperworks in Tumba, Sweden. What had begun with a series of technical exchanges in the mid 1990s between Crane and Tumba led to a very close relationship. When the Swedish Central Bank, which had owned the plant since it started operations in 1755, decided in 2001 to privatize Tumba, Crane was in a position to make an offer. So in 2002 Crane took control of Tumba and formed Crane AB which includes not only the paper mill but also the printing plant where all the Swedish currency, the crown, is printed.

“Tumba was a test for us as our first international manufacturing operation,” comments Tim Crane. “We have taken it quite slowly but now we are very pleased with the results. The potential for productivity improvement was better than we had anticipated and this gives us a very good platform from which to serve the international banknote markets. In addition, the Swedish Central Bank is also happy with the arrangement.” Another area where Crane has grown in recent years is the business of nonwoven filter papers. Used for high-tech applications such as reverse osmosis and ultra-filtration, the specialty nonwoven filters are made of synthetic fibers such as glass and polyester. While the company has been making nonwoven papers for several decades, it is only in recent years that the sales of these specialty filter papers has taken off.


While Crane & Company is being challenged on several fronts, both from counterfeiters and competitors, in the true spirit of the American Revolutionary heroes with which it is closely associated it keeps fighting on persistently. By combining its very old roots and traditions with new state of the art technology, the company has been able to stay on top of its game by standing on three important legs. These include currency papers and banknotes sold to central banks around the world, technical papers for advanced high-tech applications and the famous 100% cotton fine papers used by everyone from presidents to printers. •

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