For What It’s Worth…

So I’m a bit of a numismatist, or, as my wife sometimes puts it, I’ll spend money to buy money. Technically that’s what anyone who invests in the stock market also does, although they’re hoping the money they spend will get them even more money but for a lot of coin collectors we don’t do it to build interest—we do it because we think coins are interesting. Mostly I collect foreign coins because I like the variety and I like the way the coins make me feel connected to other places. Also sometimes countries produce interesting commemorative coins, like Croatia which just produced a Dalmatian coin:

Source: Croatia Week

Back when I spent cash a lot more regularly I’d find an occasional Canadian or even British coin in my change, and once I even got a coin from Bermuda out of a vending machine. What path did these coins take that they found their way to me? Foreign coins also tend to be cheap, at least here in the United States. One of my main places to buy coins used to be flea markets. I’d find booths where dealers had various U.S. coins selling for anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars, and they’d have a cardboard box in the corner of foreign coins, going at a rate of four or five for a dollar. Sometimes I’d find a genuinely valuable coin—a Canadian toonie, a British pound, or a Euro, and I’d say to the seller, “You do know how much this is worth, right?” And they’d hold out the cardboard box and say, “Take a few more.” I guess that was because most of the time I was the only person buying their foreign coins.

And then I just heard about this extremely valuable $20 bill:

Source: Kottke

I’ve often heard about printing and minting errors in currency and how they can make a coin or bill worth so much more than face value. The $20 bill was found by a college student who got it out of an ATM and went on to sell it on eBay for $10,100.00 in 2003, although really the most amazing thing is a college student held onto a $20 bill. It was last put up for sale again in January 2021 and sold for $396,000.

The funny thing to me is there was probably a trail that could trace it back to its point of origin. Not the single bill but, from its serial number, it would be possible to determine the exact day, maybe even the time, it was printed, the other bills it was bundled with, when it was shipped to the bank that owned the ATM, and even when it was loaded into the machine. It made that long journey but it wasn’t until one person looked at it as a single bill that anyone ever stopped to think about what it was really worth.

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4 Comments

  1. mydangblog

    We sell a lot of coins where I work and some bills too. The guys have this one particular bill that’s all shrivelled up and they keep trying to convince people that it was a printing error. But if you’ve seen newer Canadian bills, they’re made of some kind of plastic and they shrivel under high heat. I think someone just left that bill out in the sun for too long, lol!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s hilarious and a little sneaky that they’re trying to sell a shriveled bill as one with a printing error. Also I understand why Canada abandoned the penny but I’m kind of sorry they did. I have a whole notebook of just Canadian pennies dating back to the 19th century. It’s kind of cool seeing how the maple leaf design and the various monarchs changed over time.

      Reply
  2. ANN J KOPLOW

    For what it’s worth, Chris, I enjoyed all the cents, sense, and sense of humor in this blog post.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I appreciate the cents of humor you bring with every comment, Ann.

      Reply

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