A simple serial number can change everything. For example, between two banknotes of the same type, one can cost 4 times more than another, just because it has one of them has a serial number from the most sought after list.
In this article I will show you what are the sequences of serial numbers that make some numismatists lose their minds and even borrow money to buy those banknotes. It is possible that some of these series have passed through your hands, but because you didn’t know them you let them pass you by.
I promise you that after reading this article you will not be indifferent. It is very likely that after today, whenever you have a banknote in your hands, you will check its series to see if you have a small treasure in the form of paper money.
Collectors look at the series numbers
All banknotes are marked with a particular number that no other similar specimen has. These numbers are sequenced; as if they were pages in a book. There do not exist, or should not exist, two banknotes of the same denomination with the same number.
So, here lies the importance of serial numbers on banknotes. This is the element that ensures that each banknote is unique and unrepeatable. Two coins of the same denomination can and should be the same. No two banknotes should ever be the same.
For all these reasons, serial numbers are aspects that collectors always pay attention to. In addition, there are some combinations of numbers that form striking patterns, and are highly sought after by numismatists and collectors.
Below, I share with you the table of collectible banknote series:
|Type of series
|First banknote of the series
|Banknote with low series
|Banknote with high series
|Banknote with solid series
|Banknote with partial solid series
|Banknote with repeater series
|Banknote with repeater series x 2
|Banknote with palindrome, radar or capicua series
|Banknotes with ladder series
|Full ascending ladder
|Full descending ladder
|Partial ascending ladder
|Partial descending ladder
|Banknotes with binumeral series
|Banknotes with binary series
|Banknotes with series 7 of the same number
|Banknote with mathematical series
|Banknote with series only zeros
|It is not a series, it is a SPECIMEN.
|Banknote with non-coincident series
|It is not a series, it is a numismatic error.
With this table you can get an idea of which are the series of collectible banknotes that exist. However, if you want to go deeper and see the fantastic examples I gathered for you, join me and I assure you that you will open your eyes more than once.
Types of series that banknote collectors are looking for
From here on out I will explain each of the valuable serial combinations that some collectors seek to add to their stock. Some of these series go as high as three times the value of a similar bill, but one that does not have the advantage of having a striking serial number printed on it.
First banknote of the series
Refers to the first banknote, from the first printed plate, with a serial number 000001. In each series there is only 1 banknote with this numbering, that is why it is so special and valuable. Something to consider is that the same denomination can have different series.
This banknote has a value of 1800 dollars, and is the first of all those minted under this denomination.
Low series banknotes
Low series banknotes are known as those whose serial number is less than 100. Of course, the closer the numbering is to 1, the more valuable the banknote could be considered.
For example, this 5 dollar bill from 1929 was sold for 1300 dollars, just because it is a low series very close to 1. It is true that it is also in an uncirculated state of preservation, but other bills of the same era, with the same state of preservation, barely reach 200 dollars, while this one is six times that value.
High series banknotes
At the other extreme, we find the banknotes that are close to the end of the series. That is, those that are among the last 100 bills before it is essential to change to another series.
Here we must consider that there are denominations and series in which such a large number of banknotes are not printed. In that case, it would be necessary to analyze if the collectors would take a serial number that does not begin with 9, as a serious high one. Probably some would, and some would not.
Banknotes with solid series
A solid series is one that is composed of a single digit, which is repeated throughout the serial number. Normally in each issue there can be up to 9 banknotes with solid series, since any number is valid to form a series of this type.
A not minor detail is that the series generated from the 8 are more striking and demanded than others by collectors. The reason is simple, the 8 is a number considered “lucky” in some Asian cultures.
NOTE: The banknotes that have series numbers with only 0 are not solid series, later I will tell you why this is so.
Partial solid or half solid banknotes
A variant of solid series is the half solid, or partial solid. In this case we are talking about a banknote where half of the serial numbers are 0, and the other half is made up of one of the other 9 numbers.
In this example we have a $20 bill with a solid half series composed of zeros and fives. This specimen was auctioned for $282 , and its most interesting element is the striking serial number.
Banknotes with repeater series
A repeater series is when the same number combination can be found twice on the same banknote. In other words, the second half of the series is the same as the first half. For example, this 2001 $1 bill.
Banknotes with repeating series are the least difficult of all collectible variants to find. Still, the odds of finding one in change are small relative to the number of random series available in circulation.
Repeater x 2
Banknotes with x 2 repeater series are those whose numbering presents repetition both within each half and within the half itself. In 8-digit series numbers (North American banknotes) this type of series can be found when any number in the tens order is repeated 4 times. Here is an example:
As you can see, in this $100 bill the number 02 is repeated 4 times. So, we have that the first half of the whole series (0202) is equal to the second half and, in addition, within each half the same decimal combination (02) is repeated.
Palindrome, radar or capicua series
A palindrome is a set of characters, letters or numbers, which are read equally in one direction or the other. For example, the word “recognize” is a palindrome, it always reads the same in the normal sense, or if you dare to read it backwards.
Well, palindrome series are those that reproduce this phenomenon with numbers. By the way, these series are also known as radar or capicua, and there are three types, which I will tell you about in a moment:
We have a basic radar type banknote when the serial number can be read equally in both directions. From right to left or from left to right.
This Cuban banknote, already out of circulation in the island, is a basic radar, since you will always read the same number, no matter where you start to do it. This bill, along with another 200 Cuban peso bill, were sold for $139, only because both had capicua-type serial numbers.
A repeater radar serial number is one that is both a radar and a repeater. It meets both requirements. For example, let’s look at this 5 euro note sold for $312:
In this case, the banknote presents a radar type series because you can read the same numbering in both directions, from front to back, and in reverse. Also, if they divide the serial number in two, you will notice that both halves are the same, so it is also a repeater.
This type of bill is quite curious, and very hard to get. A super radar bill is when the first and last serial number is the same, but all the others in between are of a different type. The numbers in the middle can be of any type, but the most sought after are those with only zeros in the middle.
This beautiful 1969 $1 bill is a super radar that, along with three others of the same type, sold for $750. Paying for this amount for three 1’s seems to me to be a good deal for whoever sold it.
Banknotes with staircase series
Although ladders are more associated with poker, in numismatics we also have our own ladders in the form of series. A ladder is a set of consecutive numbers arranged in descending or ascending order. Collectors recognize two types of ladders:
Full ladder series
The full ladder serial number is one that is assembled using all available numbers. In the case of dollars there are 8 digits, but in other currencies this amount may vary. In fact, it happens with this beautiful banknote that I show you below:
In this case, the Japanese 10 thousand yen bill of 1984, presents a full ascending ladder type serial number. The numbering starts with a 1, and goes up to 6. If it were the other way around, starting with a 6 and going down to 1, then it would be a full descending ladder.
Partial ladder series
A partial straight is when the series number is split, one half being zeros and the other half a straight. Of course, it is a shorter straight, made up of fewer numbers. Just as with a full house, the partial staircase can be ascending or descending.
Look at this example:
This 1929 $20 issue features an ascending partial straight built with 456. It is a straight flush because the preceding numbers are all zeros. This beautiful specimen was sold for $149 in May 2021.
Banknotes with binumeral series
Binumeral series are those that are constructed from any two digits and do not follow a specific order or pattern. This clarification is important, since many series that are binumerals may also fall into other classifications (first number, radar, repeater, etc.), but in those cases that type will take precedence over this one.
Binumeral series can be assembled with any combination of two digits. Banknotes with serial numbers based on 4 and 8, 2 and 9, 0 and 5; or any other combination, except one, which because it is special has its own name.
Banknotes with binary series
Banknotes with binary series are those whose binumeral numbering is based only on 1 and 0. The name comes from its relationship with the binary or dyadic system, which is the basis of all the software tools we use in our daily lives.
For example, this beautiful banknote from the Banco Nacional Ultramarino, Macau; features a binary type serial number. This 1963 specimen sold for a not inconsiderable $840 in 2019.
Banknotes with serial seven of the same number.
Another form of serial number sought after by collectors are series seven of the same number. I think the name is fairly representative, it is a binumeric series where only one of the numbers is different from the rest.
This 2009 $10 issue has seven 5’s in a row and a 2 that breaks the pattern. They can also be presented with the discordant number in the middle, and it would still be a 7 bill of the same type.
NOTE: This typology is only valid for banknotes with 8-digit series numbers. For coins with shorter or longer series numbers (such as euros) this classification does not apply.
Banknotes with mathematical series
There is a type of series number that is even rarer and more specific to find, and that really only interests a small number of collectors. These are the series of numbers that correspond to mathematical variants. Two series in particular are the most interesting:
- Fibonacci serial number: 11235813.
- Pi serial number: 31415626
So scarce and rare are these banknotes, that I searched for examples to illustrate the article and was unable to find them. If you have one of these bills, or know someone who has one, I would love to hear from you below.
Banknotes with serial numbers with 0 (zeros)
All banknote series always start with the number 1. Even so, you may have seen banknotes whose serial number was composed of only zeros. These bills are known as SPECIMEN, and are not authorized for circulation.
For example, this is a SPECIMEN of the $5 bill issued by LA BANQUE DU CANADA in 1935. This specimen has an approximate value of 750 US dollars.
The SPECIMEN banknotes are printed to be distributed to central banks of countries, museums or other institutions, to facilitate the recognition of the original banknotes. They have no real monetary value, however, many collectors love to treasure them.
Banknotes with mismatched series
Banknotes with mismatched series are considered numismatic errors. That is, this type of banknotes are not produced on purpose. On the contrary, the issuing institutions have quality systems that try to prevent this from happening, but every now and then some specimen skips the controls, to the delight of error collectors.
The real value lies in the error and not in the combination of numbers it presents. Of course, the error can be in a single digit, or in several digits of the numerical series. The coarser the error, the more valuable the banknote.
For example, in this 1957 $1 bill the second number of the series is different above and below. Because of this error the bill was valued and sold for $3,000 in January 2022.
How easy is it to find a banknote with a collectible series?
The ease of finding a collectible series depends on the type of combination you are looking for. Some types of series are produced in very small numbers, while other variants have many possible combinations.
For example, in each issued series we will only have available:
- 1 banknote with series First banknote,
- 9 banknotes with solid series,
- 999 low series banknotes.
On the other hand, the number of combinations that make up repeater series, radar or binomial series or series 7 of the same type is much higher. Therefore, a little easier to find than the first ones.
Even from such a rare type of serial number as the binary series, containing only zeros and ones, there could be 253 possible combinations. That is if we discount the specimen series (00000000), the number of the first bill in the series (00000001), and the super radar (10000001).
So, I can’t tell you that they are easy to find, but maybe if you are a lucky person, you will be able to spot some of these bills. Only if you pay attention.
How much are the bills with rare serial numbers worth?
Everyone who is interested in coin and banknote collecting knows that the value of a numismatic piece depends mainly on three factors: rarity, conservation and demand.
- How rare and difficult to find is the series you have or are looking for?
- Are there collectors willing to pay for that particular specimen?
If you can answer both of these questions then you have determined the value of the rare and collectible serial number bill.
You were in error if you thought I would give you an exact value, or range of values, for the series I mention in the article. As a collector and numismatic enthusiast myself, I wouldn’t go that far.
However, if you have a specimen of some of the series mentioned you can seek advice from dealers in your city, or apply this method to know the value of collectible coins, which with a little cunning you can also apply to banknotes.
What do you plan to do now with this information?
I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I did writing it. As I told you in the introduction, I imagine that, from now on, all the banknotes that pass through your hands will be carefully analyzed, looking for a wonderful and valuable series.
If you liked the article you can share it on your social networks or send it to your friends so that they can join the legion of banknote series number hunters. I would also be grateful for any comments you leave me below about what you learned here.
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