Paper Money

Record price for ‘Del Monte’ obstruction error $20 note

This Series 1996 $20 note for the St. Louis Federal Reserve district (Fr. 2084-H) carries an obstruction in the form of a banana sticker. In Heritage’s Jan. 22 auction, it realized $396,000, a record price for any U.S. paper money error, large or small.

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The famous “Del Monte” error note, a Series 1996 $20 note for the St. Louis Federal Reserve district with a banana sticker, geometrically exceeded all expectations on Jan. 22 when Heritage Auctions sold it for $396,000.

The note, Friedberg 2084-H, carries an obstruction in the form of a Price Look-Up code label from a bunch of bananas.

The sale was part of Heritage’s Signature Currency auction, held in Dallas because the F.U.N. show in Orlando, previously the sale’s venue, was canceled. The note has an exalted status among paper money errors, but considering that the highest price Heritage has ever sold an error note for previously was $70,500, the result was somewhat shocking.

The auction house’s description placed an estimated price of $25,000 to $50,000 on it. By the day before the auction, the opening bid had risen to $105,000. When the sale started on the evening of the Jan. 22, the opening price was $210,000.

Bidding quickly proceeded in $10,000 and $20,000 increments to $300,000 on an offer from a live bidder (identified as bidder number 75454). After deliberation, a phone bidder followed with $320,000.

The live bidder then made a $330,000 “cut” bid from the $340,000 being asked, a bidding tactic that cannot be used twice.

There was no raise from the telephone, fair warning was given, and the hammer came down at $330,000 plus the 20% buyer’s fee.

Dr. Fred Bart, author of United States Paper Money Errors, commented on the result. “The error realized a record price for any US paper money error, either large or small. It has been pointed out that this piece transcends the arenas between paper money errors and pop culture art and may have attracted bids from collectors who rarely focus on numismatics. History will reveal whether a similar realization is possible in a future sale or if it struggles to break the six-figure mark. No matter what the future holds, it certainly set a high water mark which will prove difficult to surpass in our lifetimes.”

Error origin

An obstruction error is a fairly common but interesting type of printing error that occurs when a piece of foreign material, usually paper, finds itself between the printing plate and the sheet of paper being printed.

The most desirable of the type are ones, such as this one, where the obstruction is retained with the note instead of falling off.

It is the nature of the label that makes this particular error so unusual. Heritage says that “Most would conjecture that this error note was no accident and probably the result of some very bored or creative BEP employee.”

This otherwise common $20 Federal Reserve note has a banana sticker reading “Del Monte Ecuador” overprinted by parts of the Treasury seal and serial number on the right side of the note, while it covers parts of the denomination designations and Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin’s signature.

The unusual $20 note was discovered by an Ohio college student in the summer of 2004, among cash from an ATM withdrawal. He soon placed it for sale on eBay where it sold for about $10,000 to one of twelve bidders.

Even then, when collectors learned of it, they considered it a bargain. Heritage sold it a year and half later for $25,300, and it was off the market until now.

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