An error note that has you seeing Hamilton double, if a bit faintly
and backwards once, is an affordable mistake that did not occur the
way you might think it did.
The Series 1977 $10 Federal Reserve note has normal face and back
printings, but also a second version of the face on the back of the
note. This extra image is not only on the wrong side of the note, but
it is backward as well — a mirror image of the face side.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the extra image “bled
through” from the face to the back of the note; that is a common first
impression for individuals unfamiliar with how paper money was printed
nearly four decades ago when the Series 1977 notes made their debut.
However, you would also be wrong.
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The note is what is known as a blanket impression error, also
called, a bit misleadingly, an “offset printing” error. The mistake
that resulted in this error actually occurred several sheets before
the sheet on which this note was printed.
When this note was printed, the backs and faces of 32-note sheets
were printed in separate operations. First the back of a sheet was
printed and then the face, with some time granted between the two
printings to enable the ink on the back to “cure” (it dried almost
instantaneously, but 24 hours or more was allowed before the sheet was
printed on the other side so it became fully stable and unlikely to
smear under pressure).
The sheets were printed by curved printing plates affixed to a
roller, with a second roller of equal size covered with a flexible
blanket that impressing the linen-cotton paper into the ink-filled
grooves of the intaglio plate. A second or less time passed from when
one side of a 32-note sheet was printed before the next sheet passed
between the two rollers, and the next sheet, and the next sheet.
At some point, however, there was either a gap in the sequence of
sheets or one of the sheets was folded. In either situation, the
ink-filled plate came into direct content with the blanket on the
other roller, the result being the transfer of the ink to the blanket.
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As new sheets continued to be fed into the press in a normal
fashion, the ink on the blanket was transferred to the already printed
backs of the next dozen or so sheets, until all of the ink was used
up. The first sheet would have had the darkest printing, with the ink
of the same darkness as the normal printing on the face. Subsequent
sheets would have gotten increasingly fainter impressions. Obviously,
the transferred ink would be a mirror representation of the normal
image on the face.
Blanket impression errors used to be pretty common; I have found
them in circulation myself. The illustrated note sold for $164.50 in
Heritage’s Feb. 28 Tuesday Internet Auction. It is graded About
Uncirculated 50 Exceptional Paper Quality by Paper Money Guaranty.