Is the Movie Money that I bought from you on eBay real?

Well, that depends a great deal on what I said in the lot or item description and what you mean by "real." It certainly isn't real legal tender money anywhere on this planet or among the Allied Worlds (see below). I do sell a few better examples of reproduction prop notes as well as play money and other kinds of scrip. I collect all of these objects as well as genuine motion picture props. However, I will never knowingly sell reproductions as originals. Beginning in May, 2008, I will mark all reproductions that come my way with:

Facsimile APS 121419

This notation will be on the back side of the bill at the bottom right corner whenever possible. On rare occasions the mark may be in a different location but if the bill is known to be a reproduction and it came from me, the mark will be present somewhere on the bill. As time permits, I will add supporting documentation for specific notes at the bottom of this page.


Movie Money
or Prop Money is used on the stage and in motion pictures to simulate cash. We have all seen films where bank notes are burned, blown up, thrown to the winds or otherwise damaged and mishandled. Even Hollywood has to think twice about destroying real spendable bank notes. Ever since the very early days of cinema, film-makers and property companies have printed their own fake money to stand in for the real thing on screen.

Where do prop notes come from?

There are two broad sources for movie money (studios and property houses) and three types of movie money (film specific, studio specific, and generic prop house notes).

As might be imagined, film specific notes (those designed for just one movie) are usually the most detailed and the hardest to get. Film specific notes often play an important role in the movie themselves and can be seen in screen close-ups.

In move prop note collecting, The Million Pound Note from the 1953 Gregory Peck film of the same title is the Holy Grail. The real one was auctioned at Sotheby's a number of years ago and brought, if I remember correctly, £3,000. The buyer reprinted the note in a numbered series which was the only official reproduction of the bill. Since then there has been at least one unofficial numbered reproduction and a fistful of other reprintings. One seller provides a nice reproduction of the note with a COA that is just as nice. The problem is that all his COAs have the same number, #125.

Other popular "film specific" notes include the 100 pound note from Zamunda with a portrait of Akeem (Eddie Murphy) as used in the film Coming to America, Banco Central de Tecala 20,000 pesos used in Proof of Life by Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, and the 100 & 500 Alliance credit notes used in the television program Firefly and film Serenity as well as many others. Unfortunately, the popularity of such film specific notes with persons who are not generally collectors of movie money has lead to widespread reproduction.

Studio issued notes are generally used in a variety of films or television productions all from the same studio, sometimes many years apart. They may not be as romantic or flashy as film specific notes but they are, if anything, of more interest to the movie money collecting community.

Property house notes are issued by various suppliers of film props and rented to the major studios. They can be in anyone's films! The most famous and largest supply of property house money came on the collector's market in 1999-2000 when Ellis Props and Graphics closed their doors. Ellis had been in the property business since 1908 and their supply of movie money was without parallel. Collectors and dealers who were paying attention during the Ellis inventory auctions were able to acquire large quantities of high quality and often famous prop money that had been used in such classics as Gone With the Wind and The Maltese Falcon as well as many others.

In recent years, reproductions of some prop notes have been made commercially available to the collector's market. Notes from the popular Batman film series and the Alliance credits from the science fiction film Serenity come to mind.

How can I tell if my prop notes are real?

Reproduction of studio specific and prop house notes is almost unknown so you are almost always safe. However, in many cases with film specific notes you can't tell if they are fake nor can anyone else. Some popular film specific notes have been reproduced so often and so well that it is doubtful that even the original film property masters could tell them from the real thing. However, there are a few tell-tale signs that can confirm or deny authenticity.

First of all, don't let the presence of a COA (certificate of authenticity) convince you that a prop note is genuine. COAs are a fairly recent development in the hobby but anyone with a computer and a laser printer can whip up a nice looking COA. A person who would knowingly sell you a fake piece of movie money and represent it as real would, I suspect, be happy to send a bogus COA along with it. On the other hand, many veteran movie money dealers do not issue COAs but their collectibles are absolutely authentic. So, don't let the lack of a COA scare you off either.

Find a dealer that you can trust. Check out their feedback. Do they list membership in prominent hobby trade publications? What other objects are they selling? Dealers should be willing to tell you something of the history of their items. Don't jump on an item just because it is the first one you have seen; chances are a similar item will be around again.

Keep in mind that movie money is designed to not only fool the eye on screen but to be an inexpensive, plentiful, and durable stand-in for genuine currency. For this reason, genuine movie props are seldom printed using ink jet technology; the resulting items would not be durable enough for prolonged film use. Color photo copies, while much more durable, tend to have a gloss or shine to their finish can make them noticeably fake on screen. The same is often true for color laser prints. Both color copying and laser printing are relatively expensive printing methods that would not generally be used for large quantities of notes. Look for offset printing and delicate lines or fine halftones on genuine examples. Generally, prop notes are printed on inexpensive paper. If your item is printed on fiber infused or "real" bank note paper, chances are it is a fake; in a move nobody can tell or cares what the money feels like.

Arm yourself with knowledge!

The single best tool for an aspiring movie money collector is Fred Reed's massive catalog of prop money, Show Me the Money (McFarland & Company: February 7, 2005, ISBN 0786420375). This catalog has well over 700 pages with hundreds of examples of movie prop notes cataloged and described. It can be easily found on eBay and is well worth the $125 cover price.

Specific Notes:

Union of Allied Planets 100 & 500 Credit Notes:

These notes from the science fiction film Serenity and TV series Firefly got me in a lot of trouble and resulted in my present obsession with authenticity. A supposedly limited edition reproduction of these notes was made by the Quantum Mechanix Company. These reproductions are common and are often sold as screen used props. Although they are nicely made and printed on high-quality stock, they are not the real screen-used thing. Unofficial reprocuctions have been made in a number of colors, sizes, and denominations. Only 100s and 500s were used in the film.

I bought a bulk lot of these notes, supposedly screen used, from a noted film prop company and they came with a convincing COA. I turned around and sold several pairs of notes under the reasonable assumption that I had the real thing. Not so, apparently. I was soon contacted by collectors who said thay my notes did not match examples known to be screen used. So, how do you tell a genuine screen used example from one of the many relicas? Beats the crap out of me! One clue might be that the real screen used notes were "aged" by soaking them in tea. Therefore, inkjet printed notes can't be real because the ink would run. Examples could be viewed as suspect if they don't appear to have ever been wet but that's just my guess. I'd love to see/have the real thing.

Zamunda £100 note and £5 coin:

The Zamunda £100 note (Reed type #BC-10a) from the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America is one of the most often faked movie bank notes. As of yet, I have never seen a genuine example. Most fakes are accompanied by equally fake COAs.

On the other hand, the Zamunda £5 coin was commissioned by the film's producers and minted by Continental Coin Corporation. It as made in gold, copper-nickle, gold plated copper-nickle, and brass plated copper-nickle. brass examples were used in the film and the copper-nickle variety were given out at the premier and possibly other events. The single gold example was presented to Eddie Murphy. All examples of the coin that I have seen have been genuine. Still, if someone was offering me a gold example, I'd be skeptical. It is interesting to note that Continental Coin is the same company that ran afoul of the United States Postal Service by selling "legal tender" Hutt River Province Desert Storm commemorative coins.

Page created May 19, 2008.