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Caution: Open your (junk) mail before shredding. Otherwise, you may find yourself trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle, like this one:

Shredded Bills

Oops.

An envelope with a survey came in the mail a couple of weeks ago, and while I usually open those sorts of things, Al put the unopened envelope in the shred pile before I did anything with it. Today while cleaning, Al was busy shredding when I heard him exclaim, “Oh my god, I shredded a dollar bill!”

He pulled out from the shred bucket the tatters of what used to be a form letter intertwined with strips of paper currency, and I found myself trying to determine if there was more than one bill in the mix. Putting the pieces back together was an exciting and challenging puzzle, but in the end since there turned out to be only two bills, it wasn’t actually that difficult. Al felt terrible about shredding the bills, but I found the whole incident rather amusing.

Now I’m not sure what to do with the two bills. I could attempt to tape the slivers together in their proper order, take the heavily bandaged bills to the bank and explain what happened, and ask if they would exchange the Frankenstein bills for wholly intact bills. Or I could mail the slivers to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which replaces mutilated currency, and request new bills. Or I could keep them as an art project. Decisions, decisions.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of the survey, which was the whole reason behind the mailing in the first place. I feel a little guilty about keeping the bills (or what remains of them) without returning the survey. The problem is, I don’t even know which company sent it because I didn’t bother to try to piece together the letter (I was having too much fun figuring out the dollar bills), and Al has already put the shredding in the recycle bin. I suppose I could sift through the bag, but it would be much harder trying to put the letter back together because of all of the other shredded white paper mixed in. So to whichever survey company sent me the mailing and entrusted me to participate, I express my sincere apologies. You wholeheartedly placed your trust in me and I let you down. I promise I’ll do better next time, in case you should decide to keep me on your mailing list.

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[This is not ordinary blog fare as it contains a good deal of technical information regarding currency production.  I felt compelled to document the experience, though, because it was an unexpected little thrill.  My apologies to those of you who don’t “speak the language.”  I’ll be happy to explain things in lay terms if you’re curious. 🙂 ]

I’m aware of many folks who have received surveys in the mail that contain a few dollar bills as an incentive to complete and return the survey.  I’ve always felt a little envious because I never receive those things.  But a few weeks ago, a postcard came in the mail from the Nielsen Corporation  informing me that I would soon be sent a survey to participate in their data collection of TV viewing habits.  Naturally my first thought was whether their envelope would contain a few CU (crisp uncirculated) notes, haha.

Well, as promised by the postcard, on Tuesday I received an envelope containing a TV viewing log wherein I’m supposed to record information about what my household watches on TV during a specific week.  I’m afraid they’re going to be disappointed in what I send them because I don’t watch that much TV.  But the instruction booklet says that’s okay, they need to know that sort of thing, too.  When I flipped over the TV log, lying there before my eyes were the backs of several CU $1 notes!  Hooray, I’ve finally arrived!  I wonder what the FRB (federal reserve bank) and block will be.  Will any of them be star notes?

The return address of the envelope is Oldsmar, Florida, but who knows whether the notes actually came from that region of the country.  I turned over the top note, and it was a run 12 series 2009 L-L block. Nothing extraordinary about the serial.  I turned over the next two notes, and they were all consecutive.  Then I turned over the fourth note, and to my amazement and delight it was a run 3 series 2006 G-* note!  The fifth note was also a run 3 series 2006 G-* note.  No doubt the selection of notes was random on their part, but oh the serendipity!

Now, here’s the weird part.  I looked more closely at the L-L notes and realized that although brand new, two of them weren’t perfect.  One has a slice missing from the lower left corner, and another has something similar except that the edge of the note is jagged in the way that a dull scissor will leave an unclean cut.  At first, I thought I may have caused the damage because I used a serrated knife to open the envelope.  (Ouch.)  But the notes were inbetween the log and some other paper, and I don’t think I put the knife that deeply into the envelope.  The two damaged notes were also in the middle of the five notes, so I don’t know how I would have managed to damage those and not the rest.  Also, there are no bits of torn-away note anywhere.  I decided Nielsen’s processing equipment must have chewed up the notes a bit.

Hmm.  On the other hand, the fact that two star notes were included here could be significant.  It made me wonder if the damage was actually done at the BEP (Bureau of Engraving and Printing).  Perhaps they discovered some damaged sheets and replaced them with star sheets, but two of the adjacent sheets, although minorly damaged, weren’t bad enough to warrant replacing.  The plate position of the L-L notes is B3.  As I recall, the order of the notes in the envelope was L738..55L on top (face down) followed by L738..54L, then L738..53L, then G065..41X*, then G065..42X*.  Perhaps the stars were replacements for L738..52L and L738..51L.  The two damaged notes are L738..54L and L738..53L, which were immediately adjacent to the star notes in the envelope.  The star notes are undamaged.

To add to the mystery, run 3 happens to have been an odd-sized short run of 16,000 sheets.  Short runs are commonly produced for replacing damaged individual sheets before the cutting and bundling step. However, the BEP reported this run for use as replacement notes, meaning it was produced to replace whole straps where damage has been found after notes have been cut and bundled.  So it’s confusing as to why these two star notes would show up in the middle of a regular strap – if, in fact, that’s what happened.  There could be any number of other explanations, though.  It seems peculiar, for example, that those run 3 star notes were serialed a full two years earlier (December 2009) than the L-L notes (December 2011). One would think that particular run of stars would have been used up well before then.  Further, the BEP Fort Worth facility produced at least two, and probably three, short-run star blocks to be used as replacement sheets subsequent to the run 3 series 2006 G-* block, and it seems like those later runs would have been the more likely to show up within the L-L run.

Anyway, here is a closeup of the two damaged notes:

Close-up of damaged notes

After posting this information on a web forum attended by currency collectors, I learned that the note with the jagged pieces still intact was most likely damaged at the BEP by a dull cross-cutter on the COPE-Pak press.  As to the mystery of the star notes, I realized later that the idea I had posited couldn’t have been correct.  For one thing, the plate position of the star notes would have to have been the same as that of the L-L notes, but it isn’t; the star note plate position is A2.  Further, the production process at the BEP is such that the gyrations I was going through to explain the damage and presence of star notes was not physically possible.  A simpler explanation was offered: whoever packaged the notes into the survey mailer happened to have a strap of series 2009 L-L notes and a strap of series 2006 G-* notes, and somehow or other this is the way they got mixed-and-matched.  I’m quite satisfied with that explanation.  Indeed, I like the idea that someone took notes from two different piles and inserted them in the one envelope. “Hey, this next guy on the list is a collector,” he said to another co-worker stuffing envelopes.  “I’ll throw in a couple of stars, he’ll appreciate them.” 🙂

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