This is a great place: not so much for the exhibits perhaps, though they are very interesting, as for the show put on by the two-person staff. Mary Ward, formerly of the HR department, is the Curator. She welcomes everyone to the old building in which the Museum is housed. This used to be the rag-picking room where the cotton rags were sorted. She shows you a video — an episode of Made in America in which John Ratsenberger interviews Crane people about the manufacture of their paper for banknotes. The process is perhaps familiar to anyone who’s been to a paper mill, but there’s no wood pulp being used here. Banknotes are made from 75% cotton and 25% flax fiber. Watermarks, security strips etc are all placed precisely in the sheet, so that when the paper is dried and shipped each element falls in exactly the position required for the engravers/printers. With the web moving at the speeds it does, and the shrinkage involved, this is obviously an amazing technical feat. Security is tight, and understandably you are not going to be able to visit the actual mill, or to learn precisely how these effects are achieved. About 400 workers are employed at the Dalton plant. The well-known stationery, made with a similar pulp, is manufactured in Neenah, Wisconsin, where about the same number of people are employed.
After the video the show is turned over to Peter Hopkins, Museum Director, a man perfectly suited to his job. He will entertain visitors for as long as they’ll stay. He explains everything his audience may have missed, in terms they can easily understand. He passes around one of the new $100 bills with the embedded plastic motion strip, and will run a comparison with older versions, of which our audience actually did have one example. He points out the many other security features incorporated into the paper and the engraving of the bills. Using a florescence lamp he will show you the hidden features of your driver’s license — in the case of New York, a state seal luminesces over your head, giving you a sort of halo. Who’d have thought the Motor Vehicle Department had a sense of humor? Dollar bills are coated with potato starch which can be lost if the bill is left in a pocket and laundered. Using the fluoroscope he conducted a survey of the $1 in our pockets. Bills that had been through the wash glow, just like regular paper, whereas regular bills don’t. We found 3 washed bills only out of some 50 or so that the assembled group could muster. Apparently the Government is thinking of doing something about this “problem” but only with the $1 bill: we are all too careful with bigger denominations, so they tend not to get left in pockets when jeans are put in the wash. In answer to a question he hazarded a guess that over 90% of US currency has some cocaine contamination, but emphasized that this was detectable in parts per billion, and was likely transferred to “clean” bills by the mechanical counting process in banks, as well as other accidental ways.
After his talk (discussion) he leads you through into a workshop area where he has a batch of pulp on the go at all times. Currently he’s working on a blue paper, made from a blue T-shirt, which he chops up and puts into a little Hollander beater for shredding and “beating to a pulp”. Draining off some of his pulp, he goes over to his vat, where he dilutes the pulp to about 98% water, dips a small mould into it and makes a piece of paper for us. He explained that the blue T-shirt was giving him a bit of trouble, and he suspected that although it was labelled 100% Cotton, it may have had some Spandex or other artificial fiber in it. Apparently almost all 100% cotton T-shirts are nothing of the sort, though those made in South America still use pure cotton. This has caused problems for the main mill: they no longer can rely on cotton waste — it is almost always cotton + something waste, and the something else clogs the pulp. Sourcing material for the mill is consequently much harder than it used to be, and no doubt more expensive. To expedite matters he used a wet & dry vacuum to extract water from the sheet before couching it. The attractive blue sheet he then slaps onto a white board, rolls it a few times with a water bottle to flatten the fibers against the board, and leaves it there drying for a day or two. He then takes the calendered sheet and prints an engraving on it.
The following video, from the WWLP-22News show, Mass Appeal, shows Peter Hopkins in action, carrying out most of the operations I mention.
The Crane website is here. The Museum is open 1-5pm Tuesday through Thursday in winter, Monday through Friday in the summer. If you are in Dalton or Pittsfield turn aside and visit. You will enjoy it.