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Movie money

Until 1958 the United States prohibited any full scale photographic reproduction of its paper money. This included movie film because it was feared that a single frame of the negative could be enlarged onto a printing plate from which passable counterfeits could be madeThis section is based on Philip Reisman Jr., Mexican Stand-In, in Bank Note Reporter, March 1982, Fred Reed, Show Me the Money!, North Carolina, 2005 and the work of Richard Reed. Film companies therefore had to use substitutes and when after the Mexican revolution masses of worthless but colourful notes were dumped on the market these were acquired by the property departments of American film studios, the most common being the Banco del Estado de Chihuahua.

As these hoards of genuine notes were used up, the film industry began to produce its own notesSome suppliers, such as the Studio Supply Company (ABNC papers, letter, Studio Supply Company, 4963 Sunset Boulevard to ABNC, 16 January 1936) asked the American Bank Note Company whether it would produce additional notes but it always refused, generally modifying the designs just enough to create non-existent fantasy notes.

Reproduction Banco de Sonora

Reproductions of the Banco de Sonora $10 note were called ‘cowboy money’ because of the prominent vignette showing vaqueros herding cattle. Some were straight copies of the original note, whilst others had the Arabic and Roman numerals ‘10’ either blacked out or superimposed with higher values.

The Banco de Sonora notes were also used as the basis for various other designs.

Reproduction Estado de Sonora

By far the most familiar of all movie banknotes (both genuine and imitation) are those of the Estado de Sonora. These were reproduced many times over the years, mostly with minor variationsIn 1929 the United States reduced the size of its paper currency. Movie money seems to have followed suit. Usually the basic design was relatively unaltered though sometimes the tiny ‘American Bank Note Co.’ imprint on the margin was whitened or blacked out and at other times they were labelled 'For Motion Picture Use Only' or carried the name of the studios. As in the genuine issue the notes usually had a black face and a green back.

It is surprising that many of these notes, with different denominations, were based on the same original as is evident from the serial number.

One set of notes had a seal that turns out to be a composite of parts of the official state seals of Arkansas and Kentucky. The seal also identifies the work of the Earl Hayes Press, one of several Los Angeles firms that specialised in printing such paper props. Another 1000 pesos note had the portrait of Madero replaced by the helmeted Athena that appears on American Express traveller’s cheques.

Some time during the early 1960s a more realistic single central portrait was adapted to some printings of the small-sized Estado de Sonora.

Many of these notes came on to the market in June 2000 when the stock of Ellis Props & Graphics, the largest prop supply house in Hollywood, was auctioned.

One of these movie money mints was based on Catalina Island and produced coins as well as notes. Apparently the Mexican money in the film 1934 ‘Viva Villa’, based on the Estado de Sonora but with the title ‘Estado de Onora’, a portrait of Wallace Beery as Villa in the centre and two cooing pigeons (essential to the plot) in the background was submitted to the Mexican government for approval and at official suggestion the word ‘peso’ was deletedThe Numismatist, 1934.