Paper Money

This $20 error note headed to auction is absolutely bananas

This obstruction error note is one of a kind. It has a Del Monte banana sticker affixed, over which were overprinted some of the design elements.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

The “Del Monte” note returns to the auction block after a 15-year absence as one of the featured offerings at the Heritage Currency Signature auction on Jan. 22.

The note is an obstruction error, usually, but not in this case, 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 bank note sheet being printed. The most desirable of the type are ones where the obstruction is retained with the note.

The “Del Monte” nickname results from the obstructed object attached to the note — a Del Monte sticker from a bunch of bananas.

While a few spectacular errors of the type sell in the thousands, it is rare to find one in the five-figure range. Yet when the Del Monte note last sold in January 2006, it realized $25,300, and this time, Heritage is placing a $25,000 to $50,000 estimate on it.

That’s because, as the company says, it is considered the most famous error of the type. The otherwise common Friedberg 2084-H $20 1996 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.

It was discovered by an Ohio college student in the summer of 2004 as part of an ATM withdrawal. He soon placed it for sale on eBay where it sold for about $10,000 to the highest of 12 bidders. Even then, when collectors learned of it, they considered it a bargain. Heritage sold it a year and half later and it has been off the market ever since.

Dustin Johnston, Heritage vice president of currency auctions, elaborated about the note. “Collectors immediately fell in love with it,” he said. “The placement of the ‘Del Monte Ecuador’ banana sticker is ideal because it covers part of the printing details and is overlaid by part of the Treasury Seal and the bill’s serial number.”

He described the note’s unusual appeal. “This isn’t the first U.S. bill to have an obstruction stuck on it during the printing process. Other objects include a Band-Aid, paper fragments, tape and wood shavings. The objects we see that obstruct ink in the printing process include mostly debris from the printing floor. This debris rarely stays affixed to the notes, and this is no debris; it is a foreign object that should have never made it onto the printing floor.”

 No one is sure whether the label is an accident or the result of a prank by a BEP employee. But either way, it passed through all regular channels before entering circulation.

The note is graded Choice Uncirculated 64, Exceptional Paper Quality by Paper Money Guaranty.

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