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Still making money

With the US ordering less paper for bills, Crane & Co. has branched out

Crane & Co. in Dalton has been making the paper for US currency for more than a century. The US redesigns its bills about once every decade. Crane & Co. in Dalton has been making the paper for US currency for more than a century. The US redesigns its bills about once every decade. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle/File 2010)
By Kaivan Mangouri
Globe Correspondent / July 9, 2011

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When the US government starts printing less money, what happens to the company that supplies the paper for dollar bills?

For Crane & Co. in Dalton, which produces the specialized paper for printing greenbacks, fewer bills means cuts in orders and revenue. So the company has added more governments to its customer list, including emerging economies where cash is still king and attempts to reduce counterfeiting are on the rise.

The Crane family has been making paper for US currency for more than a century - through depressions, booms, and recessions. But in 2003, the Federal Reserve System updated the technology used to screen the condition of paper currency, effectively reducing the number of bills destroyed each year. (In 1989, 46 percent of $1 bills were destroyed; in 2010, just 21 percent were.)

Over the past 20 years, the average life span of paper bills - $1s, $5s, $10s, $20s - has doubled. Longer lasting bills means the government has been printing fewer of them, according to the Fed.

That means most of Crane’s business now comes from overseas.

“Selling to central banks throughout the world - that’s a growing business for us for sure,’’ said Charles Kittredge, the sixth-generation of his family to run Crane. “We are constantly looking for opportunities internationally.’’

From its plant just outside of Stockholm, Crane produces paper for the currencies of Mexico, Thailand, India, and Egypt. For Tanzania, Sweden, and Chile, it both supplies the paper and prints the bills. It also produces enhanced security features - including specialized watermarks, fibers, and fluorescent elements - that are embedded in bills. South Korea, Costa Rica, and Lebanon buy such products from Crane.

Crane bought the Swedish plant in 2000, and now has 300 employees there; at its operations in Dalton and New Hampshire, it employs 1,200 workers.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on durability, and making the US bank note the most durable bank note in the world, and we take pride in that,’’ said Kittredge, who is chief executive. “It’s a double-edged sword [though] . . . because it lasts longer, it means that we make less of it.’’

The currency business has become increasingly sophisticated as governments, including the United States, demand papers that are increasingly difficult to counterfeit. The United States redesigns its currency about once every decade, according to the Fed.

The new $100 bill is due out in the near future, though an exact date has yet to be set. Crane has already produced the paper it will be printed on, as well as the security features. When it is issued, the new Benjamin Franklin bill will be in high demand internationally, especially in countries that have uncertain economies and currency. “The $100 note for me is my favorite, because it’s the most prestigious bank note in the world,’’ Kittredge said.

Between 20 percent and 35 percent of the company’s revenue comes from paper for US currency, down from about 50 percent in 2001, Kittredge said. He declined to reveal Crane’s revenue figures.

Additional forays into paper products, such as filters to purify water and reduce air contaminants, are replacing the company’s once-strong position in stationery, Kittredge said. The company also makes security papers for US and Swedish passports.

Kittredge maintained that Crane will remain a company rooted in US currency. “The fun thing for me is to stand up in front of an audience anywhere in the country and be able to say that Crane & Co. products are in 98 percent of their pockets,’’ he said. “We’re ubiquitous.’’

Kaivan Mangouri can be reached at kmangouri@globe.com.