Paper Money

Overprint on back error is on special test paper

Most U.S. paper money printed since the 1870s has been produced on paper supplied by a single firm. Notes printed on paper from a different supplier are scarce, and when one of them is an error note as well, the appeal is even stronger.

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A Series 1977A $1 Federal Reserve note for the Richmond bank was printed on test paper from Natick Labs, a firm in Natick, Mass., rather than on the standard paper supplied by Crane & Co., the Dalton, Mass., firm that has supplied currency paper to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing since the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes. The test notes were produced within a specific serial number range, thus enabling collectors to identify them.

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The note, in one of Heritage’s auctions at the Central States Numismatic convention, is not only printed on the Natick Labs paper, but is also an error. The overprinting of the seals and serial numbers was done on the back of the note instead of the face.

The Process

For most of the BEP’s history, notes have been printed on sheets of paper in a three-step process: One side would be printed (typically the back), then allowed to dry or cure; then the face would be printed, and again permitted to dry or cure; finally, the face would be overprinted, usually with the necessary seals and serial numbers, and sometimes other identifying elements that might set it apart from other notes of the same basic design type.

Various overprinting error types could occur depending on how a stack of otherwise completed sheets of notes was inserted into the overprinting press. If the sheets were inserted face side up but inverted from their normal orientation, the overprinted elements would be applied upside down. If the sheets were inserted so that the back faced the overprinting equipment, then the overprinting would end up on the wrong side of the note. That is what happened with this note and the other notes from the same 32-subject sheet.

The Test Range

The note in this auction bears serial number E 79299663 H. That places it in the range of notes identified as printed on the Natick paper.

As Heritage explains, “These Natick test paper notes can be identified by their serial number range of E76000001H through E80640000H. However, research by small size specialist Robert Azpiazu and others indicate that large gaps exist in the serial numbering sequence. This would suggest that the actual number of notes printed is much less than the documented serial number range.”

The firm adds, “A great piece that is not only a rare experimental note, but an error on top of that. We would not be surprised if our estimate proves to be far too conservative,” which the firm has set at $800 to $1,100.

The note is graded Choice Uncirculated 63 Exceptional Paper Quality by Paper Money Guaranty.

A second note from the same production but a different sheet, bearing serial number E 79299664 H, is also offered in the auction.

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