On The Hunt for Fancy Serial Numbers on Dollar Bills

Boston Globe has an interesting piece on collectors of dollar bills that have “fancy” serial numbers. Think ordered sequences, palindromes, and serials that are the first few digits of pi:

The simplest fancy numbers are the early ones: The redesigned $100 note with serial number 00000001 is likely to fetch $10,000 to $15,000, according to Dustin Johnston, director of currency for Heritage Auctions in Dallas. A $20 bill that was first off the press in a 2009 run sold in April for $5,581. A $2 bill numbered 0000001 with a star—the star means it replaced a misprinted note with the same number—sold in May 2009 for $29,900.

The print runs don’t always start with 00000001—in the first six months of this year, only 11 “00000001” notes have been printed in any denomination, because the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has decided for technical reasons to start the print runs with a higher number. The low digits are therefore exceptionally rare this year. Notes numbering 00000002 and on up are worth less, but all the way through 00000100 they can sell for hundreds of dollars (with only a small premium for a $100 bill over a $20 note—since for collectors, the numbers that really count are the tiny ones).

What else qualifies a bill as “fancy” is an unpredictable set of qualities limited only by the imagination of digit-heads. One collector, a Nashville songwriter named Dave Undis, has cataloged fancy notes and presented a taxonomy on a website, coolserialnumbers.com.

In addition to the “low numbers,” which stop at 100, there are “ladders,” which have numbers in sequence, such as 12345678 or 54321098. These sell for as much as $1,300. A “radar” (selling for $20 to $40) is a palindrome, such as 35299253, and “repeaters” are notes with two blocks of the same four digits, like 41884188. Undis observes subcategories of each of these, such as “super radars” ($75 to $100) that have all internal digits the same, like 46666664.

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