Paper Money

When currency collecting gets fancy - fancy serial numbers

Collecting fancy serial-numbered paper currency can grow on you very quickly. Your interest can start with an eight-digit serial number that is striking enough for you to look at twice. From there it can quickly lead to looking at your change every time you use cash.

Ninety-six million notes are printed on most single-block runs of paper currency, resulting in serial number combinations of 00000001 to 96000000. Within these 96 million notes are a total of eight notes with solid serial numbers, two notes with full ladder serial numbers, and one serial number 1 note.

These 11 notes encompass the elite of fancy serial numbers. However, hundreds of others “fancies” are within each block. These notes run wild in change. Many of them are also identified by bank distributors and tellers.

Collecting fancy serial numbers is not a new obsession. In 1943, Albert A Grinnell auctioned off the first part of his collection. When the series of auctions was over a few years later, Grinnell had sold what was considered the largest assembly of fancy serial numbers ever put together, valued at over \$100 million in today’s market.

At times you may have sat down and wondered: why did grandpa or grandma save that one old bill in the drawer for so many years? More often than not it’s probably because that note’s serial number stuck out. He or she figured the note was worth saving because it was just not your average serial number.

We look at many bills, but how many of them have fascinating serial numbers?

Solids, ladders, low serial numbers and radars are your basic varieties of fancy serial numbers. A true fancy serial number utilizes all eight digits within the serial number, such as 55555555, not 15555553.

What follows are descriptions of the fancy serial numbers that are most collected.

Solid serial numbers

Solid serial numbers consist of all eight digits being the same, for example, 11111111 or 88888888. The most popular solid serial numbers are those with 1s, 7s, 8s and 9s. Solid 7s are considered lucky. Solid 8s are also considered lucky and agents of prosperity, particularly in the Asian community. As the first and last solids in the block run, solid 1s and solid 9s are also very popular.

Ladder serial numbers progress upwards or downwards. For example, notes with serial numbers 12345678 or 87654321 are the most sought after and considered “true ladders.” Other ladder notes such as 01234567 or 23456789 don’t demand as high a premium, but are still very collectible. However, true ladder serial numbers are always 1 though 8 or 8 through 1.

Low serial numbers

A low serial number is considered any note with a serial number that is less than 1,000, ranging in effect from 00000001 to 00001000.

Notes with low serial numbers are not necessarily released to the public. The first two packs with notes bearing serial numbers 00000001 to 00000200 are usually not issued for general circulation.

A “first pack” typically shows up in the currency fraternity three to five times a year on all denominations.

The \$1 and \$20 denominations are printed the most, so they show up with low serial numbers more than any other denomination.

If you have a favorite number under 1,000, it is very enjoyable to put sets together containing that number. Before you know it, you may have a denomination set of that favorite number.

A radar note has a serial number that reads the same forwards and backwards, for example, 00777700 or 10000001 or 72888827. Radars are among the most popular fancy serial numbers collected. A radar note that combines zeros with another number is in greater demand than your regular radar that contains no zeros.

These descriptions cover the basics. Many other fancy serial numbered varieties are known, as do combinations, such as a ladder/radar: 12344321.

If you want to start collecting fancy serial numbers, a good place to start would be Robert Azpiazu‘s Collector’s Guide to Modern Federal Reserve Notes. It provides extensive information about fancy serial numbers and pricing.

William “Billy” Baeder runs the Internet-based paper money firm www.usarare.com.

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