Today’s banknotes are sophisticated in their visual design and security features, making quality control inspections during the production process imperative. Even so, mistakes can happen without detection until after the misprinted notes have been put into circulation.
Eagle-eyed art and currency collectors are often the first to notice the misprinted banknotes—which can fetch up to thousands of dollars when sold to other collectors.
Making waves: Misprinted United States banknotes
Two misprinted U.S. banknotes—in 1- and 5-dollar denominations—slipped through quality control and are currently making news in collectors’ circles.
CoinWeek recently reported on a 5-dollar Federal Reserve banknote with misprints was “discovered by an alert collector who submitted the error to Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).” It was confirmed that the errors on the note include mismatched serial numbers as well as some missing serial digits. The image below illustrates these rare errors.
This 5-dollar Federal Reserve banknote has mismatched serial numbers and is also missing some serial number digits (Coin Week)
As of June 24th, bidding had reached $5,500 for the “strange $5 Federal Reserve banknote … with both mismatched and several missing serial numbers.” Bidding closed on Sunday, June 26th.
How did the errors on this note occur? “Lost in transition” might be an apt answer for what occurred. According to CoinWeek, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing introduced new, state-of-the-art banknote production equipment meant to increase output and tighten quality control, almost a decade ago. Large Examining and Printing Equipment (or LEPE systems) were installed at both BEP facilities to supplement decades-old Currency Overprinting and Processing Equipment (COPE) system capacity. This $5 misprinted banknote is a product of the relatively new LEPE system, which was approved to produce the $5 denomination bills in 2019.
CoinWeek goes on to explain that “With new technology comes the potential for the generation of new and mysterious mistakes, as evidenced here. Research into the complicated technical specifics that created the error note continues, although it has been established that an LEPE system setup issue was fundamentally to blame. While it is not yet certain whether that configuration problem was digital or mechanical, accidental or intentional, or something else entirely.”
Another U.S. banknote that has piqued the interest of collectors is a one-dollar bill that contains duplicate serial number errors. MSN reports that, “The first batch of dollar bills with the serial number error was issued by the federal bank in New York state in 2014. Curiously, another identical run with the same error was issued by the Washington DC facility two years later.”
A matching pair of these dollar bills can fetch between $20,000 and $150,000 depending on the bills’ condition.
TyC Sports estimates that approximately 6.4 million one-dollar bills were issued with duplicate serial numbers.
A rare but worldwide phenomenon
Banknotes with misprints and other mistakes are not unique to the United States. A 2020 article from Banknote World illustrates examples of banknotes with errors from Australia, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.
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