As It Happens

Why this $20 US bill with a Del Monte banana sticker is worth $57K or more

Dustin Johnston, the vice president of currency at Heritage Auction, says a $20 US bill with a Del Monte fruit sticker on it is coveted by collectors. So far, online bidding on the bill has reached up to $57,500 US ($73,300 Cdn).

The famed bill known as the 'Del Monte note' first surfaced nearly two decades ago

An error on a 2004 U.S. $20 bill, a Del Monte banana sticker embedded on one side, has turned it into a collector’s item. (Heritage Auctions)

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A $20 US bill coveted by currency collectors is up for auction — and is expected to fetch tens of thousands of dollars. 

"It's so famous that we just call it the Del Monte note and everybody knows exactly what it is," Dustin Johnston told As It Happens host Carol Off. Johnston is the vice president of currency at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, who is handling the sale. 

The 1996 banknote features a Del Monte fruit sticker with the produce code #4011, for bananas.

The sticker somehow ended up on the bill in the middle of the printing process, and as a result, a portion of the treasury seal and a serial number is printed over it. 

"Whenever we see something applied to a bank note, it's almost always applied afterwards. Kids put stickers on their banknotes," said Johnston. "What's unique about [this] is that we know that it was applied during the printing process." 

The current bid on the bill with the sticker is $57,500 US. (Heritage Auctions)

There's multiple theories of how the sticker might have ended up on the bill. 

"Every once in a while you have an employee who just wants to rebel a little bit and they might put something on there ... to see if it gets out," he said. 

But Johnston suspects the sticker may have ended up there as part of testing the bureau was doing at the time to improve their screening techniques. 

"Either way, the fact that it got out, because it's so obvious ... is pretty interesting and very, very rare." 

The note first sold on eBay in 2003 for about $10,000 U.S. ($12,750 Cdn) after an Ohio college student put it up on the platform. Johnston thinks the college student was a bank teller at the time and was filling ATMs with cash when he came across the Del Monte note.

Because the sticker stands out visually and is tactile, it would be easily noticeable.

"Even if [the college student] missed it and it was dispersed through an ATM, it probably would have been found very quickly," added Johnston.

In 2006, the bill sold again for about $25,000 US ($31,800 Cdn).  

The Del Monte note will be auctioned off Jan. 22, and the auction will be streamed on Heritage Auctions' website. The current bid for the note stands at $57,500 US ($73,300 Cdn). Once a buyer's premium is applied the total cost comes to $69,000 US ($88,000 Cdn).

"Most of these errors in this class are not worth as much, but this one has just captured everybody's fascination," said Johnston.

"It's one of those in our industry that everybody knows about, Everybody would love to own. [It] made the cover of the the latest book on banknote errors."


Written by Tahiat Mahboob. Interview produced by Katie Geleff.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that the sticker may have ended up on the bill because of testing the bureau was doing to increase their screening misprints. In fact, it may have ended up there as part of testing the bureau was doing to improve their screening techniques.
    Jan 19, 2021 10:42 AM ET

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