Since the introduction of small (modern) size paper money in 1929, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) has--on very rare occasions--experimented with compositional changes in the currency paper. The BEP, in cooperation with Crane & Co. of Dalton, MA (exclusive supplier of paper stock for currency printing since 1861), has conducted a mere handful of tests to assess the durability of various papers. In each instance, extremely limited and tightly regulated numbers of experimental notes were produced.
Perhaps the most famous--and most familiar--of experimental paper money involves the so-called “R” and “S” notes of World War II-era vintage. These tests occurred on $1 silver certificates of the 1935-A series. The “R” surcharge, in red ink in the lower right corner of the face or front of the note designated “regular” composition, while the “S” reflected a “special” formulation. Slightly more than one million of each variety was released into circulation in 1944, with the intention of analyzing the results of paper durability upon redemption. However, the rate and quantity of return was so small that a statistically significant result was never achieved.
Other less-known experimentals were produced on $1 silver certificates during the series of 1928-A and 1928-B, plus the series of 1935.
On Federal Reserve notes (easily identified by the green Treasury seal and serial numbers), only one regular issue of experimentals was produced. This involves an extremely scarce test conducted in 1981 on $1 notes. Although the total experiment involved printing 3,849,000 notes few exist. Either the printing was not released in its entirety or an exceptionally high attrition rate accounts for the paucity of available specimens. Such notes are printed on Natick test paper and identified by the serial Number range of E 76800001 H through E 80640000 H.
Although the BEP produces in excess of twelve billion pieces of paper money per year, excellent quality control accounts for very few errors being released into circulation. Scarce errors--such as those with the serial numbers and seals printed on the back--are produced infrequently and in very tiny quantities. Even fewer still escape the watchful eyes of human and electronic inspectors, making the so-called third print on back error extremely popular. Aside from the scarcity issue, other factors contribute to the popularity of the mistake: (1) the error is readily obvious to even the non-collector and (2) errors are apparent on both sides of the note with the face/front resembling “play money” as there is no serial number or seal and the back appears to crowded with the overprint elements resting atop the normal design.
At the 112th convention of the American Numismatic Association in Baltimore, MD, a discovery note appeared: it is a $1 1977-A Federal Reserve note experimental (on Natick test paper) with the serial numbers and seals printed on the back.
This note combines the ultimate in rarity with a mistake of noteworthy importance arising on experimental paper. It is certain to highlight the next collection it enters. Although rumors of two such notes have long existed, until this piece surfaced and traded hands via private treaty confirmation was non-existent. It bears serial number E 78779660 H, well within the known range of the Natick experimentals. The discovery note grades Choice Crisp Uncirculated, and bears a tiny ovoid area of discoloration above the “R” in ONE DOLLAR on the back. It is hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of times rarer than a generic example of the third print on back error.
Further information about the note is available from Frederick J. Bart, P.O. Box 2, Roseville, MI 48066, (586) 979-3400 or via email.