Fancy serial number notes come in all shapes, sizes, combinations, and varieties. The degree to which a collector pursues the rarest notes is often a matter of taste: while a serial #00000008 note would catch the attention of high end collectors, some people are more than content with a serial #00000333, or even a birth year #00001950 that would be a less expensive investment.
Generally speaking, the highest value fancy serial number notes are those which are printed ONCE during a specific block run. One example is the true ladder serial number, one of the most sought after rarities in the paper money hobby.
First things first, “Specimen” notes do not count as true ladders even though they might have a perfect 12345678 or 234567890 serial number. The pattern of digits is right, but the purpose of them is different. All numbers are shown in ascending order on a “Specimen” to give government officials an example of the appearance of all possible digits for comparison purposes to potentially counterfeit notes. Also, if a Specimen happens to get mixed into a group of regular notes, it would be relatively easy to spot during a search effort because perfect up ladder notes are exceedingly rare. It would stick out like a sore thumb among the blur of random serial numbers.
What qualifies as a true ladder note? Purists would say a serial number of 12345678 is the true definition of a ladder note, but some other serial numbers exist that still fit the general definition of a ladder note:
Ladder Serial Number Types:
Ladder notes are actually discovered more frequently than serial #1 notes. Many times, Treasury, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, or Commercial banking officials will grab a serial #1 out of a bank pack before it has a chance to circulate, making them difficult to acquire unless you have inside contacts. Ladder notes aren’t usually pulled from bank packs because they get automatically stacked, packed, and shipped to banks for general circulation. Digging through thousands of bricks of currency at the B.E.P. prior to shipping a pile of cash for the 12345678 serial number wouldn’t be impossible, but would be against best practices and inventory protocols. Grabbing a #1 note is one thing, but breaking open packs of currency for the proverbial needle in a haystack ladder note would be messy and inefficient. As a practical matter, that’s why ladders appear in general circulation and eventually make their way into the hands of a collector. You could have one in your pocket right now and not even know it!
The best list of all ladder notes in existence we could find was at USARare.com, who advertises their inventory on PaperMoneyAuction.com: USARare.com’s Ladder Serial Number Database – click here. Included in their list are each note’s series year, denomination, type, ladder serial number, block if applicable, a symbolic representation of the ladder serial type, note grade, and last known note owner. It’s a fascinating list of notes that reads like a “Who’s Who” of fancy serial number collecting. The most common names on the list include USARare, Daniel Wishnasky (the original author of the ladder list), and Mike Abramson Currency.
Let’s have a look at some of the most impressive notes on this list!
The only known perfect set of ladder notes – Large Size or Small Size – in existence
The first known perfect up ladder Small Size Note, Fr. 1600 1928 $1 Silver Certificate
The latest addition to the ladder list: A 2004 $20 note perfect up ladder, grading PMG Superb Gem Uncirculated 69 (AMAZING!) – Check your wallets!
All of these notes would go for more than $20,000 each if they went to auction, possibly more than $50,000 depending on who wants them bad enough.
Small time collectors, take heart: if you’re flexible on the definition of a ladder note, there are many examples of serial number 00001234, 00008765, 01235600, or 09870000 notes in various collecting circles available for purchase. Save up and get one for your collection!