COLLECTING SPECIAL SERIAL
The purpose of this article is to educate, inform and hopefully pique the reader’s curiosity about collecting an unusual type of paper money. The terms “Special Serial Numbered Currency” or “Fancy Serial Numbers” or simply “Numbers” encompass all of the following types of serial numbers:
Small size U.S. type notes with any serial number under 00001000 are generally considered low serial numbered notes. The lower the serial number, the more expensive the note will be, with the most valuable being # 00000001. A “Perfect Low Serial Number” would be a note whose prefix letter, suffix letter and serial number all match the FRN district number, such as # A00000001A, or B00000002B. One of the ultimate rarities in currency is serial #00000001i, i.e. a serial # 1 replacement note. An incredible set of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 serial #00000001s, courtesy of John Whitney is illustrated in this article. John exhibited these notes along with 43 cases of other amazing currency at the August 2003 ANA show.
A roll over pair would be the last note of one block, e.g. A99999999A and the first note of the next block, i.e. B00000001A. Even folks who claim no interest in serial numbers are stopped in their tracks when they see these notes. Several of these ultra rare notes are illustrated in this article. An amazing six note roll over set of 1934 $1 Silver Certificates, including an “extra digit” serial number, from the John Whitney collection is illustrated in this article. (See info on #100,000,000 serial numbers later in this article.)
Solid Serial Numbers
Small size U. S. type notes referred to as solid serial numbers, or simply “solids”, have eight digits that are all identical. (Small size National Bank Notes have only six digits in their serial numbers.) Solid numbers encompass: #11111111, 22222222, 33333333, 44444444, 55555555, 66666666, 77777777, 88888888, and 99999999. Their rarity is easily established by “doing the math”. Once every 11,111,111 one would expect to see a solid serial # note. This is no longer the case. Back the 1980s the Bureau of Engraving and Printing stopped printing serial # 99999999 for general circulation. If one subscribes to the monthly BEP production report, one finds that the last serial number printed for general release to the public is now 96000000. A Perfect Solid is a Federal Reserve Note boasting a serial number, prefix and suffix letter that match the district number. (See photos) Amongst the rarest small size solids are Legal Tender, aka U.S. Note solids. Perhaps the ultimate solid is the solid serial number star note, one of three in private hands is illustrated in this article.
As the name would suggest, ladders are serial numbers whose digits move up or down. The most highly sought after and highest priced ladders are “full” eight digit ladders such as 98765432, 87654321, 12345678 and 23456789. The 98765432 has become exceptionally difficult to locate (and only available in older series notes), because the BEP no longer prints serial numbers above 96000000. Partial ladder serial numbers include 01234567, 00123456, 00012345, 00001234, 00000123, 00000012, 07654321, 00654321, 00054321, 00004321, 00000321, 00000021, 2100000, 32100000, 43210000, 54321000, 65432100, 76543210. (See photo)
A serial number that reads the same forward and backwards is a radar note. Some examples include serial #s 15677651 (a four digit radar), 97722779 (a three digit radar), 11888811(a two digit radar), 25522552 (a radar-repeater), 12344321 (a radar ladder) and 10000001, also known as an ABBBBBBA or (super radar). The last example is the most elusive and sought after by collectors.
A serial number whose digits repeat themselves is known, not surprisingly, as a repeater note. Examples of repeater serial numbers include 15671567 (a four digit repeater), 34453445 (a three digit repeater), 77887788 (a two digit repeater), 12341234 (a ladder repeater) and 01010101, also known as an ABABABAB or (super repeater). These ABABABAB repeaters have always been in high demand.
Progressive Serial Numbers
If one were to build the ideal set of progressive serial numbers, they would seek 72 notes starting with: 00000001, 00000011, 00000111, 00001111, 00011111, 00111111, 01111111, 11111111, 00000002, 00000022, 00000222, etc. with the last note in the progressive set being 99999999. (See photo)
Seven-of-a-kind Progressive Serial Numbers
A complete set of these notes would start with: 01111111, 10111111, 11011111, 11101111, 11110111, 11111011, 11111101, 11111110, 11111111, 02222222, 20222222, 22022222, 22202222, 22220222, etc. ending with 99999999. There are several other “7-of-a-kind sets one can build. (See photo)
Single Digit Seven-Zero Serial Numbers
This difficult-to-complete set would start with 00000001, 00000010, 00000100, 00001000, 00010000, 00100000, 01000000, 10000000, 00000002, 00000020, 00000200, 00002000, 00020000, etc. ending with 90000000.
Nine Digit Serial Numbers (serial #100,000,000 )
A very limited number of large size and small size notes were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, with nine digits, all bearing the serial number 100000000. From articles written in the 1980s, borrowing upon research done over several decades, this author believes that a total of 89 large size serial number 100000000 notes were printed and 76 small size serial number 100000000 were produced. Far fewer have been reported in private hands. Prior to and after the end of the era of #100,000,000 notes, the last serial number in a run of 100,000,000 notes was usually serial #00000000, and was pulled and replaced by a common star note. According to a March 1988 Coin World article, written by Jack H. Fisher, the first small size U.S. “Extra Digit Serial Number” was the $1 1928 Silver Certificate #A100000000B. Jack indicated that research at the B.E.P. done by star note expert Doug Murray, suggests that serial # 100,000,000 notes were printed in the (following quantities): $1 1928 SCs (34), $1 1934 SCs (6), $2 1928 USNs (3), $5 1928 USNs (6), $5 1928 FRNs (1), $5 1934 FRNs (2), $5 1934 SCs (10), $10 1934 FRNs (10), $10 1934 SC (1), $20 1934 FRNs (3). The last #100,000,000 note is believed to be the $1 1934 SC F100000000A. The research done by Doug Murray indicates that the BEP stopped printing these 100,000,000 notes sometime between 1936 and 1941 with the completion of the 1934 era series. Having spent an inordinate amount of my time seeking these 100,000,000 notes out for clients, I can find evidence in private hands of only these eight small size serial #100,000,000 notes:
$1 1928 SC I100000000B $1 1934 SC B100000000A
$1 1928A SC C100000000B $1 1934 SC C100000000A
$1 1928B SC G100000000B $1 1934 SC E100000000A
$1 1934 SC A100000000A $1 1934 SC F100000000A
It is interesting to note that through the work of Martin Gengerke of R.M. Smythe Co., the author of “U.S. Paper Money Records”, (a “must have” resource for all large type note collectors), he and I can document the existence of 13 large size U. S. type notes with serial number 100,000,000 in private or public hands. A complete complimentary list of these 100,000,000 notes and all known large size eight digit solids, is available by contacting me at Mike Abramson Currency, P O Box 16690, Duluth, MN 55816-0690, e-mail: email@example.com.
A quick story before I go on…..
I have spent the bulk of my adult life interested in small size U.S. paper money. I’ve always been fascinated by the aspect of owning both an item of beauty and one that has such unique qualities that no one else would have the exact same item. Fancy serial numbered small size U.S. Paper Money just seemed to fill the bill for me.
As a teenager I discovered an old-time currency dealer, living only fifteen miles from my home. I will never forget sitting in this gentleman’s kitchen in his home back in 1967, asking him to search for small size paper money with anything in “special serial numbers”. I especially wanted to see and hopefully buy blue seal or red seal notes with low serial numbers. When he showed me a $1 1928 USN Note with the bright red seal and the red serial number A00000247A, I was “hooked on numbers”. This individual was a generous man in both spirit and trust. We spent a lot of hours looking through stacks of new bills in that kitchen. He kept making trips down the stairs into the basement to pull out more and more notes. At one of these wonderful sessions I am certain that he had well over 200,000 new $1 bills sitting on that table. I have to stress that I really didn’t know him all that well at that time. As a 17 year old student I was more than surprised to be sitting in front of a table stacked three feet deep with new currency. He would continue to leave the room to go search for more notes, and never really gave a thought about leaving that much “cash” laying out for me to review. He would share stories about how things were back in the 1950s and 1960s when he had “contacts” at two Federal Reserve Banks. He advised that he was able to regularly buy #1 bricks (i.e. serial number 00000001-00004000), for as little as $200 over face value from these Federal Reserve Employees. He related that in the early 1970s “the BEP got wise” to the fact that some of their employees were selling #1 bricks, and put a stop to this practice. His supply of low numbered packs quickly dried up.
How does one find special serial numbers today?
A goodly number of collectors spend time looking at each serial number of each bill that passes through their hands. Unfortunately the chances of finding any fancy serial numbered note worth more than $25 “in change” is akin to being struck by lightning. The majority of fancy serial numbers that appear daily on ebay and/or through dealers come from a small number of prolific cash vault employees or managers. Although I have no written proof, based on my experiences related above, I strongly believe that In the 1950s and 1960s some of these “suppliers” worked at the one or more of the twelve Federal Reserve Banks. Today there are thousands of individuals who COULD be major suppliers of fancy serial numbered notes. These individuals include Federal Reserve Bank employees, armored car company vault managers, money center bank currency vault employees, and regional bank currency vault managers. Contrary to many people’s belief, very few fancy serial numbers are ever supplied by bank or credit union tellers. The folks at the “retail windows” just don’t have a large enough supply of new money on hand to find many, if any, special serial numbers. I have been fortunate to have worked with four individuals over the past fifteen years, who literally stand in an ocean of new money each day.
So, if you are standing in a room of 2,000,000 new bills, how can one find banknotes with serial numbers worth pulling? It’s really quite simple: All new currency is shrink wrapped by the BEP with their serial numbers stacked in numerical order. On the outside of each brick of 4,000 or 16,000 notes, the first and last serial number is printed on a large bar coded label. In short order one will know if there is anything in each package worth buying. It should be noted here that none of the suppliers I have worked with, EVER took a bill without replacing it with another bill of the same denomination. If this all sounds quite simplistic and that most anyone can stop by their local bank to set up a “supply chain”, they likely will find this to be an extraordinarily difficult task. The vast majority of armored car companies and banks will not allow their employees to buy fancy numbered paper money. It is a “convergence of the stars” when one can locate both a cash vault manager who has an interest, and an employer that has no objections to him (her) buying fancy serial numbered bills from their institution at face value.
The elusive serial #00000001-00004000 brick
The appearance of “first brick” notes is a relatively rare occurrence, but really shouldn’t be. Two of the supply contacts I trade with, each see well over 1,000,000 new bills each week. Simple math suggests that approximately every ten weeks, each of these individuals should be receiving a brick of 4000 notes with the serial numbers 00000001 – 00004000. BUT this hasn’t been happening for over two decades. These currency vault employees are finding #1 bricks on average, once every two years. When I realized that these low serial numbers should be much more readily available I set out on a mission in the early 1990s to contact as many public officials as possible to find out why. I also asked my suppliers to contact the Federal Reserve Banks that supplied them to see what they could learn. I received replies from several public officials including the then U.S. Treasurer. Most stated that they had no idea why #1 bricks weren’t showing up, but one public official and two Federal Reserve Bank employees corroborate that because of the collectible value of low serial numbers, the BEP sent a standing order out to each Federal Reserve Bank over two decades ago, that when a #1 brick is found, Fed employees were to either destroy the first 100 notes, or “co-mingle” these first 100 notes into other bricks of higher serial numbered notes. With the huge volume of currency distributed by the BEP, this directive is impossible to follow during peak times, and so on occasion a #1 brick still slips out through one of the twelve Federal Reserve Banks.
Small size U. S. specimen notes
I have included serial # 00000000 in one of the charts below, because I wanted to touch briefly on the subject of “specimen notes”. The B.E.P. has printed specimen notes for over 140 years. It my belief that all small size specimen notes issued over the past 70+ years bore one of three serial #s: 00000000, 12345678, or 23456789. All of these notes were stamped with the word SPECIMEN on the face/and or back of the note. Some specimens are two piece (i.e. separate obverses and reverses each with blank backs except for the word(s) SPECIMEN in red or black ink printed multiple times). Some specimen notes were printed on both sides with the word(s) SPECIMEN typically printed in red on both sides. The BEP produced “specimen notes” solely for distribution to foreign central banks to alert them that a new series of U.S. paper money was about to be issued for general circulation. These specimen notes were never meant for general circulation and were never supposed to find their way back into the U.S. Somehow a few have returned to our shores. I have been privileged to have handled about three dozen small size U. S. specimen notes since 1987. Questions have arisen over the years as to the legality of owning small size U.S. specimen notes. A copy of a letter from a U.S. Congresswoman is on file in our office that basically states that ownership of small size U. S. specimen notes for collectible purposes is not illegal. In the past decade several individual small size U.S. specimen notes have been auctioned off by two major auction houses, with no known problems to buyer or seller. One last tidbit on serial number 00000000 small size notes: Small size note authority Robert Azpiazu, Jr. advises that at least one BEP issued (non-specimen) $1 FRN with serial # 00000000 exists in private hands. It appears that this note is an error note produced by BEP with a serial # that shouldn’t exist. A photo of a wonderful $1-$100 specimen set is included.
The demand and corresponding prices for special serial numbered notes has slowly but steadily increased over the past 15 years. In the late 1980s, this author was one of only two dealers who truly specialized in fancy numbers. Now there are a half dozen dealers actively seeking (and advertising) to buy this material. Before reviewing the change in value of fancy serial numbered notes, it is critically important to understand one thing: “Numbers” like many other collectibles have enjoyed a very significant rise in value over the past fifteen years. Many of the notes sold back in 1987 will bring ten to twenty times that price today. That does NOT mean that anyone should expect prices to increase tenfold by the year 2019. You’ve heard and read the phrase “past performance does not guaranty future returns” when buying stocks, bonds and/or mutual funds. The same applies for buying “numbers”. No assurance is given that these values will continue to rise as they have in the past. That having been said, a walk down Amemory lane@ may prove interesting to those who wish to know what has happened to the value of fancy serial numbered notes since 1987. The prices listed below represent documented sales at auction or between dealer/collector:
Will prices on fancy numbers continue to escalate? No one really knows. For the past two decades, there has been significantly more money available to buy fancy serial numbers than there is supply. There is no sizable quantity of this specialized material available for sale at this time. Each time a collection of fancy numbers is broken up, via auction or through private sale, prices have continued their upward movement. From April 1998 through January 2000, I was privileged to have been asked by three collectors to disperse of over $2,000,000 worth of fancy serial numbered notes. I truly feared that each of these individuals would fare poorly with this much of the same material coming into the market in less than two years. By February 2000 I was pleasantly surprised that this quantity of “numbers” didn’t have a dampening effect on prices. With the three major currency auction houses offering photos of A fancy numbers@ in their catalogs, about every sixty days and with daily photo offerings of a few fancies on ebay, buyers who never intended to pursue numbers are noticing the visual attraction of these bills and are pursuing them at today=s record high levels.
Constructing sets vs. owning one or two items
I have heard from a number of collectors over the years that they would like “ideas” or “guidance” on what or how to collect paper money. I’ve always been a big believer in trying to build sets of notes. One can do this by building a set of type notes, a block letter set, or by assembling sets of fancy serial numbered notes. Listed below are several types of sets a collector could try assembling. Those on a fairly modest budget should be able to complete the sets below on the right half of the chart for a relatively reasonable price.
Another route one might take is to assemble a small size type note set of most ANY fancy serial number:
Small sets vs. Large sets
While each of the seven sets listed above poses a challenge, the three sets on the left side of the page represent a significant investment. Building larger sets with lower denomination notes, still poses a very real challenge that is more affordable and just as enjoyable. Listed below are several larger sets that a collector could work on. These sets when complete, even without the solids, are very impressive.
Both complete 99 note sets above were exhibited by John Whitney at the August 2003 ANA show.
Both the Seven-In-A-Row and The Single Digit Seven Zero Set listed above is especially challenging because the BEP has, for the past two decades, replaced most bills whose serial number ends with more than four 9’s or four 0’s, with a random star note. It is clear that the printing process is somehow damaging virtually all of the notes ending in multiple 9’s and multiple 0’s. Every vault contact I’ve ever dealt with confirms that star notes continue to appear as replacements whenever a serial number like 59999999 or 00300000 should show up in numerical order.
One collector owns the complete 72 note set listed above in $1 Silver Certificates, with only one note being a Federal Reserve Note. Another individual owns the same 72 note set in $1 Federal Reserve Notes with only one note being a $5 Federal Reserve Note.
Two additional sets that are challenging but can be completed over a period of time include:
Illustrations of runs of notes from both the Two Digit Zero Radar Set and the Two Digit Repeater Set are included in this article. These sets, without the solids, are relatively inexpensive to assemble.
Progressive Ladder Sets
Until the last few years full ladder serial numbers just didn’t enjoy the same popularity as solid serial numbers. It is interesting to note that only three full ladders, i.e. numbers 12345678, 23456789 and 87654321, are printed from a total run of 96,000,000 notes, vs. eight solid serial numbers 11111111-88888888. Surprisingly an uncirculated $20 2004 Federal Reserve Note with serial number 12345678 sold for $3353 on ebay in December 2003, a price unthinkable two years ago.
There are several different kinds of ladders, some of which are illustrated in the chart below. Creating progressive ladder sets makes for an interesting and relatively affordable project.
If you want to own a collection of truly unique pieces of fiscal history, it is this author’s opinion that fancy serial numbers notes fill that desire like no other collectible. You needn’t spend thousands of dollars to acquire a small set of “numbers” that will amaze most people who look at what you’ve put together.
Anyone wishing to share their knowledge on the subject of special serial numbered notes, or who would like to learn more is encouraged to contact the author at: Mike Abramson Currency, P O Box 16690, Duluth, MN 55816-0690, 1-218-525-5916 phone/fax, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org