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Error Notes – A Collector’s Dream

$50.00 Fraser/Cole 1991. Serial number WGK 250038 missing on left hand side. Cause: Digit in the numbering box jamming and failing to turn.

$10.00 Johnston/Fraser 1985 FLAP. Cause: One corner of the sheet has folded prior to trimming into individual banknotes.
$10.00 Johnston/Fraser 1985 FLAP. Cause: One corner of the sheet has folded prior to trimming into individual banknotes.

Continuing our series on one of the profitable investments today – rare banknote collecting – in this issue we examine one of its quirkier sides – and dare I say one dear to us all – other people’s mistakes!

Despite all best efforts it is inevitable that on occasions notes with faults have slipped through to the ‘outside’. Printing errors in all forms of written communications are not uncommon. Notes are more than vulnerable when you consider that each separate sheet is printed upon a total of four times. Even with the most thorough inspection, errors and imperfections can always, it seems, find their way past the human eye. Coupled with the sometimes unpredictability of automated machinery this all adds up to a very lucrative and fascinating form of collecting.

‘Error’ notes have reached circulation due to two major breakdowns. All types of major errors or imperfections actually occur at print stage. The majority are discovered and subsequently marked to be withdrawn at a later stage. A note with a major error that actually reaches circulation and is not marked is therefore a result of human error. If however the note has a large inverted tick or orange vertical line across it, the error had been noted and marked for withdrawal, but then escaped due to mechanical fault in the auto sorting machinery.

It is estimated roughly that 99.9% of errors and imperfections are found at inspection, but with around 400,000,000 (and ever increasing) notes printed annually there are still quite a few rogues slipping by. Unfortunately though if you do the calculation and consider the entire population of Australia it still leaves your chances of one turning up in your wallet pretty slim! And as with all note collecting, age, condition and certain characteristics play a major part in determining the value.

50-ink runGiven that in the past printing statistics would not have been so high (ie. volume of printing) research suggests that there are actually a lot more error notes out there than should be. One can only ponder how these ‘extra’ notes have managed to escape. The best specimens are, after all, worth a lot more money than their face value out in the collectors market!
$50.00 Fraser/Evans 1993. Serial number WRX 845726. Wet ink transfer. Cause: Smudging/dilution of intaglio ink from rollers. And on some occasions bank employees themselves have seized the opportunity to snap up and purchase the remaining notes of an error batch on its discovery.

Food for thought, when one would think the destruction of these notes would be the immediate priority. Interestingly the Reserve Bank itself has in the past preferred not to comment on error notes.But going right back to the inception of mass produced notes, errors and imperfections have been occurring, although the majority of error notes in existence today are predominately decimal. Whilst pre decimal error notes do exist, they do so in far less quantity. This is probably due to a lack of people and collector awareness at the time of issue along with much less production volume which also would have enabled a more thorough checking process.

The most common pre decimal fault to be found is a mismatched serial number. This was caused by a mechanical fault, when a digit in the numbering box jammed and failed to rotate. More rarely cases where multiple digits have failed to turn also occurred. There was of course a multitude of other causes in smaller numbers.

These include the instances in 1933 where sheets of notes were printed the wrong side up, resulting in a misplaced watermark. This caused quite a stir as rumours of forgery abounded, the watermark not being in its correct position was not easily visible. Although these particular notes were innocent, in later decimal years forgeries were to become a major problem, particularly in the very early years when the new $10 notes became a major offender on a very large scale. By early 1967 over $100,000 dollars worth of these forged $10 notes had been collected by police and counts of over 1,500 of the forgeries had been successfully passed in Victoria alone causing extreme agitation and apprehension to the new currency. Four years later the forged notes were still being circulated and subsequently seized. In fact in 1971 over 2,000 were handed in to the police, proving without doubt the sheer scale of the forgery. The rewards on offer may have influenced this action!

poly10-side2But back to our error notes and imperfections. For decimal notes the most common types of error notes in circulation are due to wet ink transfers, serial number faults (still!), foreign particles sticking to sheets during print, registration shifts and the creasing or folding in sheets.

$10.00 Fraser/Evans 1993.
Missing main (intaglio) printing on the obverse side.
Cause: Two or more full sheets have not separated during the printing phase.
This banknote was marked for withdrawal hence the FEY4000 on the reverse side.

The first known decimal note error actually incurred in 1966, its birth year. Two cases were noted where letters failed to print. Initially the ‘A” in BANK under the note signature was omitted and later another similar mistake – the ‘B’ in BANK. Two rather obvious mistakes, but really, who honestly looks that closely at each note that passes through our wallets.

Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look! Today, though, the chances of coming across an obvious error are very, very low.

But looking back at some of the notes that have slipped through is truly a very interesting experience of prime example are notes that have survived with obvious creasing or shifting in printing.

There is also the amusement of viewing and discovering how does a note actually manage to be printed with its text reversed?

The entire list of errors, imperfections and associated values of these remarkable notes is beyond the scope of this article however they are indeed a fascinating and worthwile investment, as with all collectable notes. But as the huge volume of notes printed each year increases, replacing each worn and torn piece, the growth market, turnover and curiosity for error notes is assured.

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The Right Note