To both collectors and non-collectors, true double denomination error notes evoke awe and wonder. How the heck did this $20 bill get printed with a $10 back? Was the press operator drunk or remiss in his duties? So much for government quality control!
One must remember that the government has printed BILLIONS of pieces of currency since the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s inception in the 1860’s; and of course, there are bound to be mistakes both human and mechanical. For the record, the double denomination error is strictly the fault of man: it occurs when the back of one denomination gets printed on a sheet of paper, and this same sheet later gets shuffled into the printing process of a different denomination’s FRONT. It’s an understandable mistake and usually gets picked up by B.E.P. staff right away. When it goes undetected, collectors get an awesome opportunity to acquire the most fabled of all printing errors.
Dr. Frederick Bart of www.executivecurrency.com wrote the Bible on paper money errors. His seminal work, United States Paper Money Errors: A Comprehensive Catalog and Price Guide is a must-have guide for any serious currency collector. Bart delves into the double denomination error in depth on page 34 of the second edition of his book:
“The double denomination reigns supreme among paper money errors. No other mistake conjures the romance, mystique, and fascination of the double denomination. In fact, across the entire spectrum of paper money collecting, very few notes can equal the allure of the two-value oddity. More publicity and lines of catalogue descriptions are showered upon the double denomination than any other misprint.”
His high praise is not unwarranted. The double denomination is commonly regarded as “The King of Errors” among paper money enthusiasts (whether you like ’em or not 🙂 ).
Bart writes that all issues of USA currency have examples of double denomination errors, including Fractional Currency, Large Size Notes and Small Size Notes.
Of the three archetypes, the most errors have occurred on Large Size notes, most notably on National Currency issues. This is due to the fact that sheets of Large Size National Currency contained more than one denomination. As a result, the mere mishap of putting a sheet through the press upside down would produce the double denomination mistake. It’s important to note that the population size of Large Size National Currency errors isn’t necessarily due to lackadaisical press operators. Sheets contained 4 notes each, thereby only producing a small number of error notes. Instead, it’s the sheer scope of printing notes across thousands of banks that accounts for the bountiful number of National Currency double denomination errors.The other notable population of Large Size double denomination errors is the 1918 $2/$1 Federal Reserve Bank Note (Bart, 35).
This error is rarer among Small Size Notes. Bart states that roughly 200 examples of Small Size currency double denominations exist. Of this group, the $5 Face/$10 Back combination from the series of 1934-D is the most plentiful. See the images below of this note:
What does one of these notes cost? Pricing on error notes is often very subjective, but in the case of double denominations, a Choice Uncirculated example will cost upwards of $22,000. Notes that are particularly rare or unique command even higher premiums. Junior might miss a year of college to put one of these in your collection! 🙂
A parting word of advice: Unless you’re highly experienced in detecting counterfeit currency – and more crucially counterfeit error currency – we strongly suggest only buying slabbed notes from prominent dealers and/or auction houses. There have been several instances of double denomination Federal Reserve Notes discovered from recent issues that turned out to be the work of fraudsters. Always do your research before purchasing one of these notes, and make sure it has been properly authenticated.
Dr. Bart’s book, United States Paper Money Errors: A Comprehensive Catalog and Price Guide, is available from Krause Publications. It also details a host of other types of error notes in addition to its thorough discussion of the double denomination error.