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  • In the Wild West, there were many ways to make a quick buck:

  • busking, husking, hog-wrangling, hornswoggling, honey-fuggling, jug-honeying, ho-downing, horse-crowning, and of course, counterfeiting.

  • You see, before 1861, the dollar bills that we know and love were not standardized or issued by the US federal government.

  • Instead, more than 1,500 private banks across the country distributed their own bills, with their own unique designs, under charters from individual states.

  • With upwards of 7,000 different-looking bills in circulation, which varied widely in quality and reliability,

  • it was pretty easy to just hand some guy a 5-dollar Monopoly bill, tell him you got it from that bank down on Baltic avenue,

  • and walk away with your cowboy hat or steamboat or whatever it was that 5 dollars could buy in 1860.

  • The problem was so bad, in fact, that directly after the Civil War, it's estimated that somewhere between a third and half of all US currency was counterfeit.

  • That number is now believed to be well below 0.01%—only the most intricate and highly-engineered fakes can stay in circulation these days,

  • and these sorts of bills require resources at the scale of an entire nation to pull off convincingly.

  • That's where North Korea comes in.

  • "But hold on," you might say.

  • "What resources, exactly? I mean, I have paper, I have a printer, and I have a pretty good idea of what a 20 dollar bill looks like, isn't that enough?"

  • Well, outrageously stupid viewer that I made up to segue into this section of the video, no.

  • While our paper notes might seem fairly primitive, the US minting process is surprisingly costly, complex, and difficult to replicate.

  • There are a number of reasons for this, but arguably the most important is that our paper money is not really made of paper.

  • They're actually a blend of 75% cotton, 25% linen, and a handful of red and blue "security fibers" that are woven-in randomly throughout the bill.

  • This unique blend not only makes these bills ideal for a light summertime top sheet, but also gives them a distinct feel that can't be achieved by any other material.

  • As for the printing process, the Treasury uses a hugely-expensive intaglio printing press, where ink is applied to a metal plate that's then pressed into the paper with 20,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.

  • This allows for a process called "microprinting," where tiny, nearly-invisible words are hidden throughout the bill.

  • On denominations higher than the one dollar billwhich hasn't changed since 1929 due to the cut-throat vending machine lobby,

  • a fact that my writer came up with as a dumb joke, but then later learned is actually the real reasonthe security features get even more advanced.

  • All bills five and above have an invisible security thread woven into the fabric, that, if exposed to UV light, glow a different color depending on the bill:

  • blue for five, orange for ten, green for twenty, yellow for fifty, pink for a hundred, and turquoise for if you've been laundering all of your money in a bucket of Mountain Dew Baja Blast.

  • These bills also feature subtle watermarks that can be seen if held up to a bright light,

  • and bills ten and above use a magnetic color-shifting ink in the bottom-right corner that changes from copper to green when tilted.

  • In short, accurately copying one of these bills is expensive, and doing so to turn a profit is nearly impossible.

  • But sometime in the late 1980s, North Korea's Room 39—the clandestine office that maintains the country's slush fund through meth production, insurance scams, and, yes, counterfeiting

  • set out to produce perfect hundred dollar bills in a large enough volume that the operation would be profitable.

  • By 1990, Kim Il-Sung had sourced an identical intaglio printing press from Japan, cloth paper with the same iconic red and blue fibers from Hong Kong,

  • magnetic, color-shifting ink from France, and a terrified workforce from his very own home country, because it's important to keep manufacturing local.

  • Good on you, Kim!

  • The bills that Room 39 produced became known as "superdollars," because their only discernible flaws, if any, were that they were actually too perfect.

  • For example, this line on the base of this lamppost on the back of the hundred dollar bill is a little faded on the real deal,

  • whereas Kim took the artistic liberty of filling it back in one version of the superdollar.

  • On another version, the clock hands on Independence Hall stay inside the inner circle, whereas on the real bill they poke out just a smidge.

  • By 2006, there were estimated to be 19 different variations of the superdollar in circulation, each bearing a unique, nearly-unnoticeable flaw.

  • Not all of these variants can be traced back to North Korea, though.

  • In 2002, a British crime syndicate was caught printing superdollars on a smaller scale, and some have also accused the CIA of producing a variant for off-the-books operations.

  • Of course, we're not accusing them of that, because, uh, this is a channel about bricks.

  • Anyways, for many decades, these supernotes made the US treasury quake in their fancy coin-studded boots.

  • While it might not seem like a big deal for North Korea to print some extra cash to not feed people with, foreign counterfeiting operations have long been considered an act of war.

  • In World War II, for example, Hitler had seriously considered a plan to bomb Britain with piles of counterfeit cash, hoping to inflate their economy and cause it to collapse.

  • Fortunatelyor unfortunately, if you're watching this from Pyongyangthe hundred dollar bill got another high-tech redesign in 2013,

  • and the trickle of superdollars out of Room 39 has seemingly, as far as we know, come to a halt.

  • If you happen to have some superdollars just laying around foruhreasons, you should not use them to get HelloFresh,

  • specifically because I feel like our sponsor would not appreciate us telling you to use shadily acquired North Korean counterfeit currency to buy them.

  • However, in any other circumstance, you should really try them out.

  • I've been using HelloFresh for over a year, long before they became a sponsor, and even have these hundreds of recipe-pages to prove it.

  • I started using them because I used to be a take-out addict—I found I just didn't have the time to make a meal from scratch each nightbut take-out is unhealthy and expensive.

  • With HelloFresh, I get healthy, delicious, and quick meal kits delivered straight to my door each week, which typically take about 30 minutes to make.

  • For example, this week I made the Bulgogi Pork Tenderloinone of my favorite meals, which I always pick when it's an option.

  • Best of all, you can to and use code HAI12 to get 12 free meals, including free shipping, and you'll be helping to support HAI while you're at it.

In the Wild West, there were many ways to make a quick buck:

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How North Korea Made the Perfect Counterfeit $100 Bill

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    Jeff Chiao posted on 2022/02/19
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