For the casual observer of U.S. currency (who are becoming fewer as less of us use paper money on a regular basis), you might have taken note of the different symbols, the colors, the holograms, and of course the faces on the fronts.
What you might not have noticed if your interests don’t extend beyond casual is that some of the serial numbers end with an asterisk.
Now that you know, you’ll notice for sure, so let me go ahead and answer the question as to why!
All modern currency in the States contains a 10- or-11-digit serial number that makes it unique from all others. The bills with 10-digit numbers were printed before 1996, and the ones since have 11 digits.
The first letter of the serial number (found on newer bills) represents the bill’s series – the year in which the design of the bill was approved for production. Series are changed for different reasons, like when there is a new secretary of the treasury, and hence a new signature.
The second letter represents the district of the Federal Reserve that issued the bill – there are 12, meaning the letters range from A to L.
Next are eight numerical digits that are the bill’s unique ID number, and then a final letter was added to increase the possible number of serial numbers for each bill.
If there’s a star at the end of your bill’s serial number, it means you’re holding a replacement note.
When a normal press run is interrupted by a printing error that renders a set of bills unusable, replacements notes are issued. They have a sequence of their own, with the * at the end instead of a final letter.
They’re not used often – around one error occurs every 100,000 U.S. bills – but even though they’re rare, they’re not worth any more than a regular bill.
If you find one with an interesting number, like 000000001 or one that’s all 9s, you may have a collector’s item on your hands.
The only way to know for sure is to ask some hobbyists or serious collectors – welcome to the deep end, my friends!