Complete Guide to Collecting U.S. Currency Star Notes

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What is a star note?

The term "star note" comes from the small star which typically replaces the last letter in the serial number of a note.  Star notes are otherwise completely indistinguishable from standard notes.  They look the same, feel the same, and spend the same as their regular issue counterparts.  The main difference between the two lies in the scarcity of production.  It has been accurately estimated that the percentage of all U.S. notes containing the special star designation is less than 1% of all printed notes.

Why are star notes printed?

Star notes are replacements for other notes which are damaged during the printing process.  It is inevitable that some misprints, smudged bills, or otherwise imperfect notes will be made during the production process.  If a damaged or misprinted note is discovered before the final printing stage in which the serial numbers are applied, it is simply discarded and destroyed.  But if a defective note is found after the serial numbers have been printed, it must be replaced by another note.  This will ensure that the count of notes issued will remain accurate.  Prior to the advent of the star note, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) would actually reprint a replacement note with the same serial number as the damaged note.  However, as production levels increased exponentially, this time consuming and costly practice was abandoned.

When were star notes first printed?

On April 14, 1910, the director of the BEP suggested "that the Bureau be authorized to prepare a stock of notes numbered in sequence, distinguished from all other notes by a special character printed either before or after the serial number."  Approval was granted by the U.S. Treasurer and the first star notes were printed just two months later.  This practice continues to exist today as millions of star notes are printed by the BEP each year.

How much are star notes worth?

The value of U.S. currency, as with any other collectible item, is very subjective.  The value is greatly affected by a number of factors including condition, district, year, population and serial number.  To find the estimated value of a particular note, I would suggest consulting one of the many price guides available on the market.  Another great way to determine the market value of a star note is to search through the completed items on eBay.  The values obtained on completed items will tell you precisely what buyers are willing to pay for any item.

CONDITION

A note's condition is broken into several categories known as grades.  Each grade has its own unique criteria that must be met to satisfy the requirements of that grade.  Here are a few examples of the most common grades for United States paper money.

Gem Uncirculated (GEM) = A note that is truly flawless.  This note will have the same crispness, freshness, and color as the day it was printed.  It must be perfectly centered, possess clean margins, and be free of any blemishes.  This is the highest grade that a note can earn.

Crisp Uncirculated (CU) = A new bill that has never been circulated.  It is clean and crisp in appearance.  This note is almost as nice as a Gem Uncirculated note, but lacks one key quality.  This note should be reasonably well centered.

Extremely Fine-About Uncirculated (EF-AU) = A new bill that still retains the majority of its crispness but upon close review shows faint traces of use.  A few minor wrinkles may be present.  There should be no folds, creases, stains, or dirty spots.

Very Fine (VF) = This note may show some signs of handling but still should retain some crispness.  This note may have been in circulation but only for a brief period of time.  Folding may be evident but creases should not break the paper.  This note should still retain a relatively clean appearance.

Very Good-Fine (VG-F) = This note displays signs of increased circulation.  Heavy folds may be present.  Minor stains are also very common for this type of note.

Good (G) = The entire note is still intact however minor stains may be present.  This note has lost its crispness and may be dirty or stained.  Writing may also be present.

FEDERAL RESERVE DISTRICT

Along with a note's condition, the Federal Reserve designation on the note is very important.  On Federal Reserve notes, the prefix letter is always the same as the bank letter.  For example, all notes issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston have serial numbers that begin with the letter A.  The 12 Federal Reserve Districts and their corresponding letters are listed below.

  1. Boston           "A"
  2. New York      "B"
  3. Philadelphia    "C"
  4. Cleveland       "D"
  5. Richmond       "E"
  6. Atlanta           "F"
  7. Chicago          "G"
  8. St. Louis         "H"
  9. Minneapolis    "I"
  10. Kansas City    "J"
  11. Dallas             "K"
  12. San Francisco "L"

SERIES

Each piece of U.S. paper money bears a date on the front of the note.  However, the year that appears on the front of the note is not necessarily the year in which the note was printed.  The series date on the face of each bill actually indicates the year in which the face design of the note was first adopted.  For example, all $1 bills that were printed in 2008 reflect the year 2006 as this was the last year in which a change was made to the design of the note.  This can be puzzling for new collectors as this policy is very different from the minting of coins which are usually only struck during the calendar year that appears on the coin. 

What are some tips for collecting star notes?

  • Always buy from a trustworthy source.
  • Pay close attention to the condition of the note.
  • Take care of your notes after the purchase.

What should I collect?

There are many different ways to collect currency.  Some collectors will try to collect one note from each federal reserve district for each year.  Others will try to collect consecutive runs of uncirculated notes.  Whatever your preference may be try to focus on one particular strategy.  This will allow you to focus your time and budget on attaining a true collection of notes rather than just a random assortment of individual notes with no apparent theme.

Where can I find star notes to purchase?

eBay is a great place for collectors to come together for the common goal of buying and selling.  There are many great dealers who offer a wide variety of notes ranging from ultra low serial numbered notes to consecutive runs of uncirculated star notes.  I hope that this guide was both helpful and informative.  If you felt that this guide was useful, please tell me so by selecting the "yes" option at the bottom of the guide.

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