Disappearing Act

            As a boy, I subscribed to Boys’ Life – a magazine that was associated with the Boy Scouts of America.  In the 1970s, I was a registered Boy Scout, and I received a copy of the magazine every month.

I was only 12 when I started receiving my subscription.  A lot of the material seemed like it was intended for older boys.  But there were still interesting articles and advertisements.

It’s not easy to remember the details of those magazines from long ago.  But with the internet, everything seems possible.  The web page for Boys’ Life contains a “wayback machine” where (at no charge) all of the Boys’ Life magazines back to 1911 can be reviewed.  The URL is

I recently took the opportunity to use the Boys’ Life “Wayback Machine” to review some of the magazines from the 1970’s when I was a registered Boy Scout.  The hair styles were distinctively “seventies.”  The advertisements were familiar and were totally geared to topics that were likely to interest young boys: B-B guns, pocket knives, gas powered model airplanes, go-carts, mini-bikes and so on.

I can remember one of the advertisements I saw in the 1970s was for “disappearing ink.”  I can’t remember whether this ad was in Boys’ Life or a similar magazine, but at the time it seemed like a remarkable concept: Ink that disappeared.  All sorts of possibilities and pranks sprang to mind.  A contract with your sister for doing her chores that mysteriously disappeared.  A secret message to a friend that was readable and thereafter disappeared.  Nifty.

I never took the advertisers up on their offer to sell me a bottle of this magical stuff.   But I recently had a reason to remember the “disappearing ink” that I saw advertised in the 1970s.

I received a check the other day that had an unusual “watermark.”  A “watermark” is a stamp, design, or impression placed upon paper to discourage counterfeiting.  Watermarks are placed on important papers such as currency, stamps, and title documents.  The idea is that even if somebody could print a counterfeit image, it may be even more difficult for them to duplicate the process that created the paper that the document is printed on.  Thus, access to paper with appropriate watermarks can discourage counterfeiting. Watermarks can therefore serve as an additional security feature for providing reassurance that a document is genuine.

It’s possible to see all kinds of watermarks on different documents.  Some watermarks are visible at all times.  For example, my driver’s license has logos that aren’t printed but are instead contained within the actual material that the license is made of.  Some watermarks are only visible when they are held up to the light.  To see this, pull out a five dollar bill and hold it up to the light.  As you try to look “through” the bill to the light source, you’ll see all kinds of  “5″ numbers, both large and small, that aren’t printed with ink and that aren’t normally visible unless the bill is held up to a light source.

Copyright 2017 ROBERT B. JACOBS