Join 3,440 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"During the proceedings, the prosecutor took the time to mention that no other printer in the world could do what Kuhl had done."
July 4, 2012 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Hans-Jurgen Kuhl was able to create "shockingly perfect" copies of the American $100 bill by using his artistic talents to conquer the various security features present in the bill.
posted by reenum (28 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Amazing story. Thanks.

I am reminded of the hand-drawn "Boggs notes" of JSG Boggs. Though not as realistic, nor intended to be duplicates of real money, the level of detail achieved by drawing is mind boggling. The coolest part of his art is that he tries to use them to pay for things. He, too, has had run-ins with the law.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:08 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


What a great read! I was also reminded of the work of JSG Boggs. His book Boggs: A Comedy of Values is a fun quick read.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:26 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, he was never caught due to his bills being detected. He was caught because he was sloppy about other aspects of his operation, and a garbage collector found a few trashbags full of his fake banknote paper. The bills themselves never actually made it into circulation. So, you might say he was a good artist but a poor criminal.
posted by Scientist at 7:35 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cool story. Back in the day (before scanners, copiers, and Photoshop had anti-counterfeiting measures implemented) I think every graphic design student on the planet took a shot at printing their own, just to see how close they could get.

Kuhl's work should not be confused with the notorious Superdollars.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:38 AM on July 4, 2012


So, you might say he was a good artist but a poor criminal.

I think that's pretty much the entire point of the article. He seems 100% absorbed by the artistic side of things, the criminal aspect being merely a way of making money which in turn enables him to do more of the things he loves.

The last line where he talks about his "Oscar" being the ability to make just one last note and for it to fool the US Secret Service confirms this - he doesn't want to spend it in a bar, he wants it to be perfect.

Great story, thanks for posting.
posted by jontyjago at 7:42 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


The bills themselves never actually made it into circulation.

FTA:
The problem was, Kuhl and his partners couldn’t make a deal with anyone. It wasn’t for lack of trying—a sale brokered by a criminal-minded former cop fell through, and another transaction with a supposed buyer in Majorca fizzled.
Making counterfeit bills on spec sounds like a quick way to get caught.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:43 AM on July 4, 2012


The Ultimate Counterfeiter Isn’t a Crook—He’s an Artist

...Isn't Just a Crook--He's Also an Artist. Fixed That for You.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:46 AM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


He seems 100% absorbed by the artistic side of things

It reminds me of a story I watched (I forget where) about a guy who set out to duplicate casino slot tokens... a certain kind of person seems to get drawn in by the challenge aspect as much as the money (another parallel that comes to mind is Michael Larson's sad attempts to replicate his success in "beating" a contest after squandering most of his winnings gained by figuring out the system of Press Your Luck). What always gets me about these things is how much it sounds like a job, and a laborious one at that (though obviously half a million euros is a hell of an incentive).

One last example it brings up in my mind is from a book I read about Ecstasy, and the tale of some young chemists and the insane process they went through making a large batch of MDMA - figuring out a workable synthesis, buying precursors and equipment in shady deals in India, cooking in a seedy garden level apartment where they would basically work until the fumes became overpowering and then throw open all the windows and rush outside until it cleared. The punchline was they succeeded brilliantly, and only then it occurred to them that they'd given very little thought to where they would sell it. They'd basically saddled themselves with the job of being mid-level drug dealers, the last thing they really wanted.
posted by nanojath at 8:32 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Awesome story, thanks so much.

I can understand the artistic appeal of counterfeiting US dollars, but you'd think that as a German, he would have at least made an attempt to counterfeit the Euro (or the Deutsche Mark back in the day). Surely there must be other currencies both easier to counterfeit and easier to "sell."
posted by lobbyist at 8:39 AM on July 4, 2012


At times he would tell himself, almost as if in a trance: “Ich muss meinen Dollars machen” (I must make my dollars).

Reading this article, I often was calling up imagery of To Live and Die in L.A. Except here. Here I was calling up this imagery.
posted by dhartung at 8:59 AM on July 4, 2012


Am I simply a cynic for thinking that the details on how to perfect notes are false? The UV-cured ink in particular.
posted by zippy at 9:40 AM on July 4, 2012


Regarding my comment the token counterfeiter was Louis "The Coin" Colavecchio who was featured in a History Channel special on Vegas. Never been able to track down that book about ecstasy though and I can't even remember where I read it.

Zippy, why do you think that? I could see authorities asking details of a technique not be revealed but I don't imagine Wired would make something up and lie about it... I guess I could see Kuhl keeping some of his tricks to himself and substituting in the narrative some failed technique he'd tried along the way.

But the UV cured varnish finish seems plausible to me, UV-cured inks and coatings are a well-established technology used just for this purpose, to avoid problems associated with the cure time of other coatings, bleed and slump and so forth.
posted by nanojath at 10:50 AM on July 4, 2012


I'm surprised forgers don't make rookie Honus Wagner cards. ($300,000) Or, maybe they do.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:38 AM on July 4, 2012


All the references to him being obsessive to detail, struggle with debt, partying, artistic tendencies, non-linear thinking and so on convinced me that the guy probably has undiagnosed attention deficit disorder. Loved the article.
posted by scunning at 1:05 PM on July 4, 2012


Seated at the café across from the cathedral that afternoon, Kuhl handed Falkenthal a note with a price for this new order: 533,000 euros for the $6.5 million in counterfeits. She agreed. Then they decided to make the handoff the next day at his studio. Kuhl also told Falkenthal that to ensure his safety he would have someone nearby during the exchange, just to be sure the handover went smoothly. “I have no choice,” he said, “even though I basically trust you.”
Maybe this is why I'm not a master criminal, but why structure the transaction this way? She comes by his place all the time, structure the transaction over 10 visits. Each time she leaves with $600k in a box or something? That way there's no real reason to worry about someone just killing you or stealing the money or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 1:38 PM on July 4, 2012


I'm surprised forgers don't make rookie Honus Wagner cards. ($300,000) Or, maybe they do.

An Amazing Fantasy #15 would probably go for more, but probably there are only a few known copies of those super-rare, and the individual ones are very well known.

There's far less risk with counterfeiting currency, because you don't have to trick the initial buyer, you get to stay anonymous and once the money is in circulation there's no record to worry about.

Especially if you're in a different country and you don't have to worry.

Anyway, it sounds like this guy got caught by being a suprime dumbass:
Then there was the problem of the huge amount of wastepaper that piled up around the studio—an unavoidable result of the printing and cutting process, made worse by Kuhl’s perfectionism and suboptimal gear. There was far too much paper to simply shred and recycle or throw away, and to destroy it in an acid bath would have required expensive industrial-scale equipment. He couldn’t burn it, either; a tower of smoke would have drawn the fire department. So Kuhl decided to bag the shreddings and take them to an incineration facility.
...
Investigators set about unpacking the garbage bags and, using glue sticks, meticulously piecing together the shreddings. Within hours they found a scrap of paper in one of the bags with Kuhl’s name on it, and before long they had an envelope printed with his address.
*blink* Unbelievably stupid. Of course, if he were smart we'd never hear about it.
posted by delmoi at 2:02 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Always in the back of my mind is the sheer genius of the most devious forgery ring around. They convinced the world to take pieces of paper instead of real money. They've done such a good job of it that there are even people who state (without challenge, apparently) that real money is "an ancient relic".

Kudos to this artist, and his quest, though. Thanks for the story.
posted by MikeWarot at 5:01 PM on July 4, 2012


They convinced the world to take pieces of paper instead of real money.

And what, exactly, is "real money"? Is there something about, say, electrum that makes it inherently money?
posted by kenko at 5:11 PM on July 4, 2012


They've done such a good job of it that there are even people who state (without challenge, apparently) that real money is "an ancient relic".

Money is what the people whose stuff you want believe it is. You can't buy burgers with gold despite what Lew Rockwell says.
posted by Damienmce at 6:07 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


They convinced the world to GOOGLE RON PAUL!!1!!!1!!
posted by pompomtom at 8:52 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


MikeWarot: "Always in the back of my mind is the sheer genius of the most devious forgery ring around. They convinced the world to take pieces of paper instead of real money."

I assume you're talking about the Chinese, who first developed paper money? Setting aside the fact that the silly "realness" issue, what you're describing is not forgery in the first place (unless you're saying that there were folks who made pieces of paper that looked, felt, smelled, and weighed the same as metal money, in which case I have to agree, that is sheer genius).
posted by Bugbread at 12:20 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"So, you might say he was a good artist but a poor criminal." - A fantastic insight!
posted by UKgroundcare at 12:50 AM on July 5, 2012


i thought the bit where he faked the intaglio process was interesting to me. mixing glitter in? using UV-curable ink? seems so... obvious but, on that same thought, is masterful. he essentially had to run five passes with a press to get that effect, with a lot of trial and error. agree totally that there was no thinking about the business side of it. i mean, the story is bookended by the sexy girl that kills it and also flirted with the guy. didn't see it coming, really.

well, that, and the trial and error. lots of waste there, and all that.
posted by mrg at 1:59 AM on July 5, 2012


Sure, this guy is an incredible craftsman, but a great artist? I'm not entirely sure. The fact that he spent essentially his entire career trying to make "perfect" fakes, and his disdain for Warhol's process while completely ignoring Warhol's content, is really interesting, and totally orthogonal to the goal of most artists, which is to bring something new into the world.

His idea of doing Warhol "better" and "clean" is hilarious and tragic. You could say he made errors in the wrong domain; if they were artistic rather than criminal, his blunders could have been beautiful. Maybe he should have saved his perfectionism for his crimes.
posted by speicus at 8:51 AM on July 5, 2012


kenko: They convinced the world to take pieces of paper instead of real money.

And what, exactly, is "real money"? Is there something about, say, electrum that makes it inherently money?
The fact that it is composed of gold and silver, which have been widely accepted as money throughout recorded history?

I get your larger point - "what is the nature of 'money'?", but that's a point that's been argued to death by, well, just about everyone since money began. It's a con game. It's based on trust. It's a comfort zone of value. Sure. True. So what? This FPP isn't about that "Big Question", but about one counterfeiter.

Counterfeiting:Treasury printing :: theft:purchase :: rape:consensual sex. There is a difference.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:20 AM on July 5, 2012


dances_with_sneetches: I'm surprised forgers don't make rookie Honus Wagner cards. ($300,000) Or, maybe they do.
Bogus Rembrandt sketches are much easier, I'd guess.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:53 AM on July 5, 2012


BTW, on the topic of bogus art works - Pollack was way ahead of the curve on helping prevent fraud. He had a predilection for putting his cell samples into his art (hair, usually). Bingo! Instant DNA proof. Not why he did it, but a legit Pollack can sometimes be proven legit to a degree that is simply not possible with a Rembrandt.

Ironic, since he may be the artist whose works may be the most likely recipients of "Heck, I could do that!" criticisms.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:57 AM on July 5, 2012


zippy: Am I simply a cynic for thinking that the details on how to perfect notes are false? The UV-cured ink in particular.
Bill anti-forgery innovations are well-documented, and with good reason: if the innovation is secret, the bills will spread undetected.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:58 AM on July 5, 2012


« Older “If ever men should celebrate the day with the rap...  |  During his lunch break, teache... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments