How does USA paper money get from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, to the nearest local bank, and then into our grubby hands? 🙂 Well, the exact method of transport involves highly secure movements between Federal Reserve Banks and commercial banks, usually in armored cars. We can’t go into further detail because armored car companies don’t make a habit of posting their trip tickets for the public to enjoy. Moving currency has always been – and always will be – very secretive and deliberate.
How are the notes organized in each shipment? That’s where we can be of more assistance. Notes hot off the presses are packed in sets of 100 notes each in consecutive serial number order, bound by paper bands. This is what is commonly known as a “full bank pack”. Once the notes are inside their bands, each pack gets stacked into a pile of 10 bank packs, which is then shrink wrapped and labeled with B.E.P. identification numbers. In recent years, the B.E.P. has also printed bar codes on these shrink wrapped bank packs. The entire group of notes is in consecutive serial number order. This complete unit is sometimes known as a “brick” of notes. If a shipment contains an usually large amount of notes, these bricks get bound together into groups and stacked on pallets.
An interesting aside: some notes may never leave their original packages for months (if ever). This is especially true for $100 notes that get sent overseas. Naturally, a government processing a shipment for millions of dollars in $100 notes would prefer to inventory their cash in original B.E.P. shrink wrapped bricks, which means the notes are genuine and have not been tampered with. Once the packs are broken open, they can verify the authenticity of the notes by matching up the serial numbers on the notes themselves with the serial number range listed on the brick’s labeling. If they were sent packs of cash that had already seen circulation, they would have to open each pack and authenticate notes one by one, since they are NOT in serial number order and do NOT come with B.E.P. shrink wrap and labeling. Unlike what one might see on the TV news when big drug busts net tons of cash, governments that keep large USA currency reserves prefer to keep them wrapped up and manageable. Otherwise, it would be a logistic nightmare when it comes time to move the notes for a substantial cash transaction.
Believe it or not, some bricks of notes (10 packs x 100 notes each for 1000 total notes x the denomination dollar value) are available from some currency dealers. How did they get these bricks? Some dealers have inside contacts at big commercial banks and reserve the bricks before they are ever opened. Of course, if you buy one of these bricks, you’re going to pay a hefty sum of money for its face value, in addition to whatever percentage commission the dealer adds for profit.
Bank pack collecting is a specialty area of the paper money hobby, because they are rare and expensive to purchase. The most affordable packs come from notes printed in the last 20-30 years. Any older than that and you’re looking at a substantially rarer item that will cost a pretty penny to purchase. One must also be educated about the type of bank packs that exist. The following is a hierarchy we’ve developed based on some research. If you believe this information is incorrect, we welcome you to contact us by email and let us know how to improve it: firstname.lastname@example.org.
USA Paper Money Bank Pack Types, organized as a hierarchy
(We developed the following through casual research. This is NOT based on any official B.E.P. publication or government policy)
- B.E.P. Shrink Wrapped Brick: 10 Full Packs Totaling 1000 Consecutive Notes and Original Wrappers – This is a package assembled and shrink wrapped directly from the B.E.P. The brick is also bar coded. It is rare for the general public to handle these bricks, since they eventually pass through commercial banks whereupon they are opened for general circulation. Bricks are convenient for storing large sums of cash because they are easy to inventory.
- B.E.P. Bank Pack of 100 Consecutive Notes with Original Wrapper – These are the rarer forms of bank packs available for collecting. Bank packs of 100 consecutive notes with their original B.E.P. wrapper have been taken out of a brick, but were never introduced into general circulation. These packs are usually found stashed inside bank safes or centralized vaults for large commercial banks. Occasionally, people making large cash withdrawals for business or personal reasons will get these packs directly to make the note counting process of the transaction faster and more accurate.
- Bank Pack of 100 Consecutive Notes with Commercial Bank Wrapper – Every bank has their own method of organizing their cash reserves. Sometimes, a B.E.P. pack of 100 consecutive notes will have its original wrapper removed, only to be replaced with a bank’s own branded wrapper. In other cases, the notes will get a new generic wrapper that has a teller’s stamp or handwriting on it indicating that it was part of a cash counting process. These packs are still considered true bank packs, but it’s important to note that such packs should be scrutinized more carefully than an original B.E.P. pack because the notes could show signs of handling from a fast counting teller. If so, the notes won’t be universally considered Gem Uncirculated, but About Uncirculated or better.
- Bank Pack of 100 NON-Consecutive Notes of Common Series Year with Commercial Bank Wrapper – These packs are easier to obtain, since they are compiled from whatever notes are available to a bank teller at the time of packaging. That means the notes are not consecutive, but they are uniform in the sense that they are all from the same series year issue. IF the notes are Federal Reserve Notes, notes from other Federal Reserve Districts might get mixed in, in which case the pack is slightly less valuable. It’s also important to remember that notes in these packs will not necessarily all have the same grade. Check through each note carefully and assess them individually.
- Bank Pack of 100 NON-Consecutive Notes of Various Series Years with Commercial Bank Wrapper – These are the bank packs everyone knows who has ever requested a large cash withdrawal. All of the notes are the same denomination, but the series years are different, they are from various Federal Reserve Districts, and the condition of the notes can range from heavily circulated to uncirculated. These packs were assembled by bank tellers counting cash after a work day in which many different customers deposited cash from various sources. These are the least collectible bank packs unless their wrapper is from a famous bank, casino, or other noteworthy business that routinely has to organize cash.
Now for the fun part, let’s look at some packs up for grabs!
If $39,995 is too rich for your blood, peruse eBay.com, where it’s possible to find many original bank packs from recent years for reasonable prices. The most common are $2 bills from the 1976, 1995, 2003, and 2003A series. Packs are also available for all other denominations from the most recent issues.