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Noteworthy Notes: Series 1928-A $10/$5 Richmond Federal Reserve Note Double-Denomination Error

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This Series 1928-A $10/$5 Richmond Federal Reserve Note Double-Denomination Error features art for the $10 Federal Reserve Note on the face and the reverse of a $5 Federal Reserve Note on the back. Courtesy of PCGS. Click images to enlarge.

Make no mistake – we’ve certainly handled and graded our fair share of errors over the years in the PCGS Banknote grading room. Collector passion and the ensuing market activity within the error note category remains robust, and submission volume of nearly every type of error variety continues to soar. Advanced research into this specialized area of paper-based numismatics is ongoing, and novel discoveries are constantly emerging. As time marches on, new printing and production technologies create new error classes and yield fresh, curious collectibles to talk about and marvel at.

The future of the error genre looks bright. And it just got a little brighter when this Series 1928-A $10/$5 Richmond Federal Reserve Note Double Denomination Error – considered by many to be the “King of All Errors” – recently arrived for its coronation via grading and encapsulation.

Each error note carries with it its own story, and no two of these stories are quite alike. Some stories are short and sweet. For instance, gutter folds, offsets, and insufficient inkings tell a more frequently heard tale of rather simple authorship. And others, like the one attributable here, are epic enough to make even Homer proud. So, let’s break down the gripping plot line here, starring this Odysseus of a banknote.

Most banknotes are two-sided, meaning they have designs present on both their face and their back. And most of the time, these designs are inked onto their respective sides of the banknote paper during separate, distinct printing phases. The United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), the responsible party in this case, has steadfastly maintained a policy tradition of printing back designs on blank sheets of paper as the first order of operation before manually advancing those partially completed, back-only sheets into its “second print” phase for the application of the face design.

Deliberate care is then taken to ensure that these back-only sheets are properly paired with their corresponding second-print runs, including adherence to stringent guidelines for the physical storage, withdrawal, and transportation of the back-only sheet stocks. Obviously, the denominations must match, and overwhelmingly so, they do. But not in this very rare case, in which a $5 back was paired up with a $10 face, then the unsuitable amalgamate somehow managed to avoid detection during quality control (or security protocol?) and make its bold escape from the BEP facility.

Any error that gets released into circulation is a problem – to some extent – for the issuer. Errors tend to undermine issuer credibility and create some confusion. But this type of error really strikes at the core of the banknote’s reason to exist in the first place: to facilitate commerce by acting as a quick, clear, legal arbiter of fair and square trade. The resulting confusion here among transactionally interested parties takes the most crude and basic form – what is this thing even worth?

Quick pop quiz for the readership: What is this thing worth? (Face value, that is, as collector value is off the charts and beholden only to market forces.) The combined face value of both sides ($15)? An average of the two sides ($7.50)? The value as shown on the back ($5)? Or the value as shown on the face ($10)? If you said $10, you would be in line with Federal Reserve system guidelines, earning yourself a gold star.

Speaking of gold, all Series 1928 Federal Reserve Notes were backed by gold, unlike all subsequent series. Check out the “Redeemable in Gold...” finely printed clause at upper-center left. Just below that, you’ll see its “numeric seal,” the number “5” printed in a stylish, ornamental font, indicating issuance by the Fifth Federal Reserve District Bank of Richmond.

United States double-denomination errors from any timeframe and of any variety are extremely scarce. Most large-size double denominations were the product of back-only sheets of multi-denominational National Bank Notes fed upside-down while receiving their second printings, resulting in a denomination discrepancy at certain subject positions of the sheet (as well as a back print inverted relative to its face print). Small-size double denominations can literally be quantified into just four historical occurrences: these Series 1928-A $10/$5 Richmond Federal Reserve Notes (only 12 known), a small run of Series 1934-D $5/$10 Kansas City Federal Reserve Notes, a small run of Series 1950-A $10/$1 New York Federal Reserve Notes (with Silver Certificate backs!), and finally, a small run of Series 1974 $20/$10 Dallas Federal Reserve Notes.

The known existence of this error is documented at least as far back as the famed Albert A. Grinnell Collection sale of November 1946. Hailing from one of two uncut half-panels of six subjects each, which together formed the full BEP sheet of 12 subjects, this banknote formerly occupied the fifth position down on the right-side panel, evidenced by its plate position letter K. Described by auction cataloger Barney Bluestone nearly 80 years ago as being “of the greatest rarity,” they knew then what we still know to be true today – that this note is indeed the King of All Errors. Long live the King!

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