Profiting from a Printing Error

A $10 bill with the reverse accidentally printed on the front. It is worth $4,500 because of its condition.

A $10 bill with the reverse accidentally printed on the front. It is worth $4,500 because of its condition.

The next time you are visiting your ATM, pay particular attention to the currency you receive. If you’re lucky, one of your $20 bills may be worth all the bills in the ATM itself.

And it has happened, as I found out when I spoke with Glen Burger, the WorthPoint Worthologist for coins and currency with errors, at the 36th Annual Coin & Currency Show in Baltimore, Md., this year.

Burger started by showing me three nickels that were fused together. “It’s known as a cap. It’s three and a half nickels fused together that was never ejected. It just kept getting pounded and pounded. Two and a half were fused, the third fell off. It’s the best nickel cap I’ve ever seen in 26 years,” Burger says.

For 15 cents worth of nickels, the value, he says, is $15,000, because it is unique and scarce in this condition.

Any and all coin and currency that have left the Bureau of Printing and Engraving or the U.S. Mint in less than perfect condition, like the nickel cap, will likely end up with an error specialist, like Burger. He has collected error coins and currency for 26 years and is one of the largest such dealers in the country.

Next he showed me a $10 bill that had circulated for quite some time before a collector noticed something was not quite right. The obverse, or front, of a standard 1985 $10 bill showed a diagonal printing in green ink of the reverse of the $10 bill, not once, but four different times.

“It’s an extremely rare piece. It was printed first diagonally and the green printing and the back is normal,” Burger explains. “We call that the first printing. We call the black printing, including the portrait, the second printing. The third printing gets us the green serial numbers and the Treasury seal. This is actually a fourth printing, because this was done quite by accident on a diagonal and that is the reverse printed on here.” This is, in fact, a $10 bill printed through the press four different times with the back printed accidentally on the front.

The $10 bill, though, was only considered to be “extra fine” or XF condition. Because the bill has circulated, it had slight creases and normal wear before someone realized what they had and pulled it from circulation. “Just like anything, condition means everything. If you find something that looks weird, do not put it in your wallet. Just a slight fold could make it worth 50 percent of its value. So, put it in an envelope, take it home. Don’t press it. Don’t do anything like that. Try to keep it as nice as you can,” Burger says.

So, what is the value of this unusual $10 bill? Burger says it’s worth $4,500, but only because the condition was less than perfect. If the bill was uncirculated or had little wear, the value would automatically jump to about $20,000, Glen added.

After this interview, you bet I spent more time looking over the coins and bills I received at the Piggly Wiggly or my neighborhood ATM. After all, who knew that to err would be profitable?

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