When the Bank of England announced that they would be printing the latest generation of five-pound notes on polymer rather than paper, there were the usual howls of discontent from traditionalists. One year on, it’s hard to think why such a fuss was made. The little plastic notes are a vast improvement on their tatty paper forebears. The plan is to roll out polymer for the larger denominations over the next few years, with the ten-pound note next for the upgrade.
A Stronger Note
Polymer notes are much stronger than paper ones. They cost slightly more to print but work out cheaper in the long run as they last longer. The average life of a paper fiver was about two years, plastic notes are expected to last at least double that. Plastic notes are also completely waterproof so will survive a washing machine cycle or a dip in the ocean intact.
On the one-hand, security features need to be easy for retailers to verify. On the other, they must be hard to counterfeit. Printing on polymer requires specialist machinery. The company De La Rue, who has responsibility for printing all Bank of England notes, has developed its own polymer substrate. The counterfeiters will have to try and produce a polymer that mimics the feel of this and will take the ink without smudging – this is before they tackle any of the other ten anti-counterfeiting measures that have been included in the design.
The Magician’s Circle
As well as the counterfeiters, another group of people are said to be disappointed that all the notes are going plastic: amateur magicians. There is a simple and popular trick that involves appearing to rip up a borrowed paper note before miraculously restoring it. When untearable polymer becomes the substrate for all denominations, magicians will have to update their routines.
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