Heath's Counterfeit Detectors

Do we have a complete listing of all editioons and formats of Heath's Counterfeit Detector?  I am interested in knowing which plates accompanied which editions.  Also I noticed while perusing Google Books that the Treasury Department ended up confiscating a number of plates and prints from Heath.  Has anyone written that up?

I'm headed to Morocco for a Meteorite Conference and will be incommunicado for about ten days.  I look forward to finding out more about this and other "detectors" on my return.

I just joined SPMC.  I teach several courses here at Duke University.  Check me out at:

Looking forward to meeting some of you in the weeki ahead.


I am totally unaware of any listing of editions of Heath's Counterfeit Detector. I just know that there are several editions. It is actually kind of surprising, as people have mentioned it relatively often and the topic of counterfeits is a popular subject.

And I've never heard of anyone writing up a story of how the Treasury Department confiscated plates. It would not be surprising.



Greg Alexander's picture

In the ANA Anthology of 1991, Eric P. Newman wrote a definitive article on Heath's Counterfeit Detectors, subtitled "An Extraordinarily Successful Comedy of Errors." It does indeed include a comprehensive list of all the varieties and the plates they contained.

I have never heard of the Treasury Department confiscating plates and prints from Heath and the article doesn't mention this either. The Bureau of Engraving & Printing produced and sold these plates to Heath, so I'm not sure how they could legally take them back. However, Heath regularly ran short of the bookplates he needed, hence the many versions of the Detector.

One fascinating side story in the article was his attempt to publish the American Bond Detector. Heath was defrauded of a considerable sum by the Treasury, which was in turmoil at the time. Employees intent on sabotaging the agency after chief Spencer Clark was mistreated and forced out, did a horrible job printing the bond plates for Heath's book. Heath's agent was not allowed to inspect the work when he took custody, and when it was discovered that most of the plates were unusable, the Treasury Dept. refused to reimburse or reprint. Heath pursued the matter for five years, but the government never did make good, and this is the main reason these bond detectors are so rare.

Fyi, thanks to the book digitization being done by Google and other academic organization, you can view many of these counterfeit detectors online. Not all libraries did a good job scanning the engraved plates, but many are available. Health's Bond Detector is also viewable through the Library of Congress and some of the plates are spectacular.