Welcome to Steve's blog, sharing stories of his professional coin career, 1963 to date. Enjoy stories of Steve's numismatic journey.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dealing Double Down

I do not currently handle a great deal of U.S. currency, but that was not always the case. Particularly during the 1970s and 1980s -- in San Diego, Spokane and Portland -- I dealt in paper money as well as U.S. and World coins, and related items.  

Currency is fascinating for many reasons.
I personally enjoy many types of U.S. paper, including the Educational Series (1896, $1, $2 and $5), the $5 Bison, California Gold Notes, large size $20, $50 and $100 Gold Notes, and National Bank Notes from the Pacific Northwest

During the mid 1970s one particular currency item capitvated my attention – double denomination notes.

For those who are not aware, a double denomination note is a printing error resulting in the front of the note becoming one denomination and the reverse a different denomination.  This error comes in many variations. 

 Heritage Currency Auction #3520, Lot #16652

Dr. Frederick J. Bart, in his book, United States Paper Money Errors: A Comprehensive Catalog & Price Guide, provides a detailed description of the error and how it occurs:

The double denomination note – with the face and back each representing a different value – happens in a rather simple manner.  After a currency sheet receives the back printing of one denomination, the sheet enters the face and overprinting operations for another denomination.  The confusion presumably arises during the transportation of the currency stock to the second printing stage, after a storage period subsequent to the first printing.

Depending on the orientation of the note, the error is either blatantly obvious or totally obscure to the viewer.  When both sides of the notes are visible, as in turning a page in a book, the disparity of denominations is readily apparent.  However, when one side is viewed independently no error shows, as each side is perfect unto itself.

The double denomination error is rare, particularly for small size currency.  Dr. Bart estimates about 200 examples of small size double denomination notes are known to exist.

I was particularly fond of the 1934 Federal Reserve Note $5/$10 variety, in XF/AU or higher grade.

Now, in the 1970s, when I first began to buy and sell double denomination notes, I paid around $2,500 per note.  These currency errors were fun to search for and a delight to display.  Collectors loved them and examples sold quickly, in my store or at coin shows.

I continued to buy and sell double denomination notes until their wholesale cost reached about $4,000.  Because they were getting pretty expensive and rather hard to find, I turned my focus to other things numismatic. 

If we look at current auction records, we learn these notes are still popular.  In October 2012, Heritage auctioned a note similar to those I bought and sold for $15,275. This note is pictured above.


  1. In August 1977, I was traveling through the Shenandoah Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains when I stopped to buy gas. I handed the attendant what I thought was a $10 bill. As I was handing it through the car window, I thought that I saw a $20 on the back. When he returned with my change, I asked him about it. Sure enough..that is what it was..I found out later that it was a printing error and 160 bills were distributed by the Fed. Reserve in the Houston area. As of a 1978 article, 120 were returned to the Treasury Dept.At that time the remaining bills were worth 2K to 5K each. I never got mine back from the gas station attendant. He accused me of having counterfeit money and asked for another $10 for the gas! I was young and out of state (a northerner in the south) so I just paid him and left. Can you tell me just how much of a fool I was?

  2. Too bad you couldn't recover the interesting note from the attendant. Wonder what he did with it? We'll never know. Quite a story, Kathy.