If you've ever made a mistake when writing out a check, you know how easily these things can happen. Turns out, the government makes its share of currency slip-ups as well. The good news? Many of these bloopers become collectors' items, so they might be worth a pretty penny (no pun intended) if you happen to find one. Here are a few notable currency blunders.
In what might be the most embarrassing currency blunder of all, the Chilean Mint printed thousands of 50-peso coins in 2008 that had a glaring error - the name of the country was spelled wrong. The coins were stamped with the word "CHIIE," containing a letter "I" where the "L" should have been. Reportedly, several top employees at the mint lost their jobs due to the mistake. (It's a part of everyone's life, and we all want it, but do you know how it gains value and how it is created? Find out more in What Is Money?)
"God-less" Presidential Dollar Coins
"The Mint is producing a series of special one-dollar coins honoring U.S. presidents with the date, mintmark and motto, E PLURIBUS UNUM, imprinted on each coin's edge," says Weinberg.
"The motto, IN GOD WE TRUST, also was there at first, but when some coins were found to be totally missing all of the edge lettering, the government decided to move IN GOD WE TRUST to the front of the coin to prevent so-called 'God-less' dollars. Look for edge-lettered dollar coins missing the lettering or perhaps with doubled lettering."
Value: $100 to $5,000, depending on the President and condition.
Misprinted Serial Numbers
"U.S. paper money is actually printed three times in sheets of 32 notes per sheet," explained former PNG President Steve Ivy, co-chairman of Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas.
"First the back side is printed, then the front without serial numbers or Treasury Department and Federal Reserve seals, and finally the numbers and seals are added when the Treasury gets a currency order from the Fed. Mistakes can happen between printings, including upside down serial numbers and seals, or numbers and seals wrongly printed on the back of the bill."
Value: $150 to $500, depending on the denomination and condition (grade) of the individual misprinted note. (Next time you pull a $20 out of your wallet, consider where it has been. Learn more in The Life Of A $20 Bill.)
Mexican Revolution Mix-Up
To commemorate 100 years of the Mexican Revolution in 2010, a special printing of the 100-peso note was ordered by the Central Bank, which later discovered a typo in the small print surrounding the Revolution-inspired mural adorning the bill. "Sufragio efectivo, no reeleccion" (Effective suffrage, no reelection), a criticism of Dictator Porfirio Diaz's eighth presidential term, had been mistakenly turned into "Sufragio electivo, no reeleccion" (Elective Suffrage, no reelection).
Alfonso Esparza, customer marketing manager for OANDA, a forex trading and currency information services company, says, "With a single stroke of the keyboard, the Mexican Revolution lost some of its might, as its well known battle cry for "Effective Suffrage" against an eight-term dictator became "Elective," turning a movement that defined Mexican History from a cry for democratic elections into an 'option'." The typo was printed on the back of 50 million notes. There was no recall ordered and you can still find this note in circulation.
Missing "Clad" Layer
This is one of the most common currency errors. "Our current coins may look like a solid piece of metal, but all have outside layers of cladding, bonded to a copper core," says Fred Weinberg, an expert on error coins who previously served as president of the Professional Numismatists Guild, a non-profit organization composed of rare coin and currency dealers. "So, instead of a normally silver-color quarter-dollar, one that's missing its top clad layer would look copper-colored."
Value: $20 to $350 depending on the denomination and condition of the coin.
"Coins are struck on blanks (planchets) that are punched out from long strips of metal," Weinberg says. "Sometimes they're mis-punched on the strip of metal, which may result in an incomplete or "clipped" planchet with a piece of metal obviously missing."
Value: $2 to $100, again depending on the size or prominence of the clip and denomination of the coin.
"Sometimes the wrong denomination planchets are fed into the coining press, so you might find a penny struck on a blank intended for a dime, or a quarter-dollar on a cent or nickel planchet," says Weinberg. (Learn how central banks expand the money supply, and why the money supply must grow for the GDP to grow in How Money Makes The Economy Move.)
Value: $100 to $2,000 depending on the combination of what coin denomination was struck on what size planchet.
The Bottom Line
Currency bloopers do happen, and mistake-related money can be valuable - if it's legitimate. "Because some error coins and bills can be quite valuable, you have to be careful to avoid counterfeits," said Weinberg, who advises aspiring collectors to buy error coins and currency that are certified genuine by one of the major authentication services including Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, Professional Coin Grading Service, PCGS Currency or Paper Money Guaranty.
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