I know how to make invisible ink. It’s simple. You take milk. Or lemon juice – probably from a bottle of ReaLemon because, let’s face it, when I was making invisible ink, back in the 1950’s, nobody had real lemons in their fridge. But everybody had ReaLemon.
Okay, so you’ve got your milk or lemon juice – cadged from the fridge when your mother wasn’t looking (she had to go to the bathroom some time) – and a pad of paper, and a skinny little paint brush, maybe the kind that comes with a paint-by-numbers set. Better yet, you’ve got a wooden stylus from a magic slate. And you’ll always have a stray wooden stylus from a magic slate kicking around because, let’s face it, within a couple of days after you got your magic slate, someone in your house had so brutalized it that the waxy-coated pad underneath the sheath of grey plastic film was so gouged up that the magic was all but gone from the slate.
Of course, the magic slate was for disappearing something you’d written. Once it was gone, it wasn’t coming back, other than for the remnants of whatever someone else in your house had gouged onto the waxy-coated pad.
But invisible ink was something different. Invisible ink disguised a secret message. So you wrote your secret message, using milk or lemon juice, your stylus, and a piece of paper, being extra careful because it dried quick and it was hard to see what you’d written.
Then all you had to do to retrieve that message – generally about hidden treasure, but sometimes an age-old truism like BOYS STINK, or a bit of gossip like Bernadette likes Billy - was to know the secret. And the secret was pretty darned simple: hold a match under the piece of paper until the message appeared.
Since this was the 1950’s, matches were actually readily available to kids, if not exactly as a plaything, then as something that was around and that they could use as long as they knew enough not to light a pile of dried leaves or something. Once you were old enough to cross the street by yourself, you were certainly old enough to light a match so that you could read the secret message that you’d just written in invisible ink. So what if you were the one who’d written the message, so it wasn’t all that secret. The point was using invisible ink, and it was cool.
Plus, because the invisible ink turned brown when you held a match under it, and the edges of the paper sort of got toasted, the secret message started to look really ancient. So you could wave it around and say, hey, we just found a map to secret treasure. And someone in your house young enough to wreck your magic slate was probably gullible enough to believe they were seeing a secret treasure map. Knock yourselves out, kids. Don’t come back without a fist full of gold doubloons and jewels!
Well, that was invisible ink then, and invisible ink now is something altogether different.
Rather than being used by kids to create fakery, like secret treasure maps, it’s being used to spot fakery.
Counterfeiting, after all, is a big business, and it’s estimated that “fake and pirated products accounted for almost a half-trillion dollars in 2013.”
To combat all this fakery, Kodak – yes, Kodak: still in business – is coming up with invisible. ink.
Kodak, supplying hundreds of patents, research and history, is behind a startup working to combat counterfeiting with a technology that places an invisible, digitally traceable marker on products to ensure they are authentic.
The new company, eApeiron, whose name comes from the Greek word for everlasting, launched last month and is targeting e-commerce. (Source: Bloomberg)
Among those investing in eAperion is Alibaba, the Amazon of China, known as a source for cheap designer replicas.
Counterfeiting is not, of course, just about knock-off Louis Vuitton bags. Fake Louis’s might be a headache to revenuers and to the Vuitton brand police, but having one is not going to kill someone. Not so for “potentially dangerous faked goods such as drugs, toys and spare parts.” (Among other industries, counterfeiting is quite prevalent in the automotive supply chain, where legitimately defective parts are bad enough, let alone worrying about fakeries.)
There are other companies developing anti-counterfeiting and traceability technologies, but I like knowing that an old-timer like Kodak is one of them.
In support of their endeavors, eApeiron can have my formula for invisible ink for free. And a bit of naming advice. That’s free, too. Apeiron is a perfectly fine Greek word – opa! – but to this English speaker, it sure looks like Ape-Iron. Just sayin’.
Now I must away to compose a secret message in invisible ink. And – hah! – I can use real lemon juice, not the fake stuff.