THE BROTHERHOOD OF MONEY: The Secret World of Bank Note Printers by Murray Teigh Bloom

THE BROTHERHOOD OF MONEY: The Secret World of Bank Note Printers

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Not another of Bloom's firecrackers (The Man Who Stole Portugal, The Trouble with Lawyers)--but a savvy anecdotal survey of the private enterprises and government agencies that literally make money, or bank notes as they're known in the tight-lipped trade. On a global basis, upwards of 55 billion bills will be printed this year, primarily by the hard-to-duplicate intaglio process, and output is growing at an annual rate of 15 percent; all told, perhaps 50 billion notes are in circulation, with greenbacks representing nearly 20 percent of the total. Virtually all industrial powers and socialist bloc nations have captive engraving/printing capacities, which Bloom examines as closely as possible under the secretive circumstances. During the post-colonial era after WW II, many Third World countries--Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico--established state-owned plants. Nonetheless, a handful of corporate suppliers--notably, America's International Banknote, England's De La Rue, Holland's Enschede, and West Germany's Giesecke & Devrient--continue to prosper. These firms now depend on other, non-cash items (securities certificates, postage stamps, traveler's checks) for a significant proportion of their revenues; but bank notes remain the most glamorous part of their business. Also the most vulnerable. Competition for contracts tends to be intense, with bribery an accepted practice, Bloom reports, and counterfeiters are forever pitting their talents against those of monetary authorities. Occasionally, he notes, officialdom takes a hand: using concentration-camp inmates, the Nazis mounted Operation Bernhard, which forged British pounds that were used (for one thing) to pay off the Albanian spy known as Cicero. The text abounds with fascinating accounts of rogues and riches, as well as the sort of detail that delights trivia buffs. (E.g., the life span of a dollar bill--which costs about nine cents to make and distribute--is 15 months; there are 490 to the pound, and one million notes weigh roughly a ton and occupy 42 cubic feet of space.) A new scene, and good stories.

Pub Date: Dec. 30th, 1983
Publisher: BNR Press (132 E. Second St., Port Clinton, OH 43452)