By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Critics both outside and inside the United States have plenty to say about the country. Recently, more than one disparager has described the U.S. as “acting like a banana republic*.” Could it be due to a genuine U.S. $20 bill with a banana sticker that came out of a Texas U.S. Treasury printing plant? Sound like one of those great internet fakes? Nope, it actually happened – and it’s proved to send “bill collectors” bananas.
Start of an appealing story
Here’s the background. A college kid in Ohio poked his ATM card in a cash machine. What popped out of the cash dispenser was a $20 bill – with a Del Monte sticker on it. Was it a fruity idea from the produce company advertising department? Not at all. And no, it wasn’t just some nut that stuck a banana sticker on an existing bank note and let it loose on an unsuspecting public.
The bill has been authenticated, and apparently what happened is this. In 1996 in an obscure Texas facility, a run of $20 bills had made it through the first stage of printing. It’s in this process that the back is printed. Two subsequent stages follow. The front of the bill is printed, then in a third stage, serial numbers and the Treasury seal make it onto the bills.
Somewhere in the middle of this process, after the front of the bill was printed, but before the serial numbers were imprinted, the red, yellow, and green banana sticky migrated onto the run. Helping to authenticate the goof, portions of the treasury seal and serial numbers were printed right over the top of the banana seal. Result? A genuine, spendable $20 bill with a banana sticker.
Funny – not phony – bill at auction
Roll forward to 2004 when somebody decided to see if the produce market – er – collectors market would bear fruit in the form of “interest” on that $20 bill. An eBay auction for the “retained obstruction” bill (as collectors dub them) fetched $10,100. Too bad you can’t take those old bananas and make a profit! But wait – in 2006 the same bill came up for auction, this time on an auction site catering to numismatists. The funny, not phony, bill bid in at $25,300. Imagine what Andy Jackson would have thought if he’d known his portrait would fetch so much.
With that kind of return on your investment, it’s enough to make us RV travelers swear off the use of credit cards. After all, with the amount of money we go through, pumping petrol into our tanks, examining cash money could mean a real find. Imagine finding another $20 bill with a banana sticker. However, the chances of getting one can be much increased. The 1996 banana bill is now up for auction. Here’s a link to the auction site. If you’ve got enough room on your credit card, and you bid enough, you can get the real thing. Unless you’re out-bid by a hippie – the one looking for banana bread, man.
*Wikipedia: In political science, the term banana republic describes a politically unstable country with an economy dependent upon the exportation of a limited-resource product, such as bananas or minerals.