Menachem's Writings

How Much Would You Pay to Get a Million Dollars?

When I was at high school, I would automatically answer the question, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" with I want to work in electronics. I used to love building little devices in high school. It was so much fun.

But back in those days, the early seventies, the only path to electronics was via a degree in Electrical Engineering. So I enrolled at the University of New South Wales, to start my path to electronics, in 1971. But I soon found out that engineers are not very creative people. They drink a lot of beer, and nearly all are men (in those days real men didn't any drink wine). They apply scientists' knowledge to required technology. Though I had no interest in these subjects, I had to do general engineering courses, followed by mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and only later electrical engineering. Please explain to me how the knowledge they taught on bridge building applies to electronics.

Finally in the fourth and final year, there was one subject, among a bunch more you had to do that year, called "Electronics". Digital electronics did not yet exist. The first microcomputer chip, often called a microprocessor, only went into commercial production in 1971 (as the Intel 4004).

Fortunately I "got smart" and switched to Computer Science half way through my second year.

I graduated with honours in 1974 and spent the next five years on and off doing a masters degree in Operations Research. So how did I end up in the printing industry? I thought I was doing computer programming. They fooled me and I woke one day in the midst of the printing industry.

I did meet some interesting people in this business. One printer I worked with always adds to his advertisements the words, "We print everything except for dollars". I've asked why this has become his slogan, but I doubt the answer I receive is even near the truth. "Once we bought a second hand printing press from someone who had once used it to counterfeit dollars. We didn't know this, but soon our 'new' press was impounded. We were even accused of involvement in the forging." Innocent, of course.

It's over twenty years since he started using this motto and I wonder why he still bothers. Almost no-one remembers the original story, so it just looks dumb to me -- adds nothing to his advertising content, unless of course it's a code for those who understand, "if you pay us enough . . . .

Another printer I know -- a really nice guy originally from London. I suppose a little naïve -- printed fake cheques. His business was not going too well at the time. Two well-dressed gentlemen, each carrying a brief case, walk into his establishment. They are trading with European companies, using an office in Nicosia, for tax purposes. In Cyrus one can print his own cheques and they acceptable legal instruments throughout Europe.

He did think the story a little strange, but they accepted his high-priced quotation. So he printed their documents -- lots of them. He did it all on his own, late at night, but he convinced himself that what he was doing was OK, fully within the law.

 . . . until one morning he was visited by two other gentlemen . . . from the Fraud Squad.

Of course he was arrested and charged. Turned state's witness. Got off with a strong reprimand and some community service for stupidity or perhaps greed. The two "nice gentlemen" were actually wanted by Interpol for a number of accounts of international fraud. One, from Bnei Brak, was caught. And the other . . . vanished into thin air.

So you can imagine my surprise when another printer I know, totally unrelated to the other two, actually did print his own money -- a cool million dollars of it. U.S. dollars. Greenbacks! Cash. I never saw a sample, but he, his client and apparently the police too, thought they were pretty good. Good enough to pass into circulation, good enough to use in New York City, good enough to not allow into circulation.

My "friend" too wasn't doing well in his business. Familiar story. He was approached one day by someone who needed lots of dollars. Would he print some for him. He would pay for them. I think the customer provided the "paper".

American dollars are printed on "rag" paper, paper that has a high content of cotton in the pulp. The stationery used by POTUS, the president of the United States, is traditionally rag paper. It comes from a company called "Three Candles" who has a logo watermark depicting a badly drawn, three branched candelabrum. You can buy the paper for your own personal letterheads and envelopes, though it is a bit thick and quite pricey. The origin of rag paper was in the South, to use up excess cotton production.

Our printer produced the million bucks. Multiple run print job to achieve all the different shades of green. 10,000 little pieces of paper. Ten-up on a page. Two accross, five down. All with the same ten serial numbers. He also worked alone, late at night. Hid his production under disused equipment in a corner.

Job complete. Pages guillotined. Neatly stacked wads of $5,000. He's about to call his client and he gets cold feet. Or perhaps he thought his remuneration was too small. Maybe he began to wonder how he would collect his consideration. He imagined going to court to sue for payment: he owes me $20,000! and what did you print for him? a sample? entry in your order book? Or perchance he felt a pang of guilt.

He resolved to dispose of the money, burn the whole lot! If he'd smoked cigars he could have used them to light up. But burning 10,000 little pieces of paper, late at night, in the semi-dark, was not as easy a task as he supposed. This was going to take all night and half of tomorrow. He did not have the luxury of that much time.

He stopped his chore, deciding to buy an oven the next day. That would be more efficient. He hid the remaining $997,100 and disposed of the ashes, miles away from his workshop. First thing in the morning he bought an oven. As he was carrying it into his premises, the boys in blue arrived. Actually, they weren't in blue. It was our old friends from the Fraud Squad. (It seems the boys of the Jerusalem Fraud Squad are busy little fellows.)

Anyway, to cut the chase, our forger friend was arrested on the spot. They knew where the dough was stashed. None of it made it into the oven. They obviously had inside information. I don't know from where, or whether he even knows, even now. Perhaps his clients suspected his change of heart.

This time however, the police did not nab the "clients". And the U.S. Federal Reserve added colour and other "make it to difficult to copy" devices to their notes.


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