Counterfeit Detection: Federal Reserve Note with Missing Serial Numbers

Posted on 6/15/2021

The PMG grading team determined that this dollar bill doesn’t have a genuine error.

PMG recently received this 1969 $1 Federal Reserve Note (San Francisco) — formally known by its Friedberg catalog number of 1903-L, and less formally known as a dollar bill. As you can see, the green serial numbers that ought to be at the top-right and bottom-left are missing. That would make this a valuable error note, if only the error were genuine.

Altered 1969 $1 Federal Reserve Note (San Francisco)
Click images to enlarge

This is a good opportunity to review the types of errors that PMG certifies. PMG does not have a “Missing Serial Number Error” for Federal Reserve Notes like this one. However, PMG does have a Missing Print Error, which could include the printing of the serial numbers. But in this case, we know that this is not a Missing Print Error because the green seal at the right of the note is present. This seal is printed with the same ink and at the same time as the serial numbers.

Genuine Obstructed Printing Errors

You can get some insight into how US money is printed by looking at the famous “Del Monte note” here. Notice that the green seal and serial number are printed on top of the banana sticker, which found its way onto the surface of the note between printings. This is called an Obstructed Printing Error. Other elements, such as the unseen parts of the word TWENTY and the Robert Rubin signature, were printed earlier and are underneath the sticker.

The “Del Monte note,” a 1996 $20 Federal Reserve Note (St. Louis) with an Obstructed Printing Error graded PMG 64 Choice Uncirculated EPQ
Click images to enlarge

The obstruction is an item (such as a paper clip, tape, sticker or scrap of paper) that is on the note during the printing process. The sticker is still on the Del Monte note, making it an unusual “retained obstruction.” Generally, whatever blocked the ink on an Obstructed Printing Error will fall off before the note is encountered in circulation.

1977 $100 Federal Reserve Note (Philadelphia) with an Obstructed Printing Error graded PMG 66 Gem Uncirculated EPQ
Click images to enlarge

This $100 Federal Reserve Note suffered from a rather large Obstructed Printing Error. Something came between the ink and the paper that blocked most of the left serial number as well as the entire right serial number and the green seal.

An Altered Dollar Bill

Could something similar have happened to the dollar bill recently submitted to PMG? It is not impossible but still extremely unlikely that the serial numbers would be blocked while the green seal remained unaffected. Let’s take a closer look at where those serial numbers should have been.

Altered 1969 $1 Federal Reserve Note under special light.
Click images to enlarge

Using special lighting and magnification, we can see a discoloration specifically in those two areas. This indicates someone used chemicals to remove the serial numbers from the note. Doing the same to the green seal would have disturbed the gray ONE beneath it, so the counterfeiter left that area alone.

If you aren’t sure your banknote is genuine, remember that the PMG Guarantee backs the PMG grading team's determinations of authenticity and grade — including for error notes.

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