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Noteworthy Notes: Military Payment Certificates Rank High Among Collectors

By Philip Thomas - October 15, 2021

Some PCGS Rare Coin Market Report readers may wonder what exactly makes a banknote “noteworthy” and how one would be selected to be featured here. While there is no precise special formula, notes fitting the bill (pun intended) for this column should reside at the intersection of Rarity Road and Desirability Drive and have a compelling story to tell. Since a plethora of rare, desirable, and interesting banknotes regularly come through the PCGS grading room, it can be tough to narrow things down to just one worthy specimen for this showcase.

10¢ Series 541 Military Payment Certificate – Error. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView.
Click images to enlarge.

This time around, the decision was made easy after considering how hard it was for the PCGS team to recall from its collective memory how many Military Payment Certificate (MPC) errors – especially ones with some dramatic flair – we have ever handled. The consensus was very, very few, in addition to this Series 541 10¢ Fractional with an inverted and misaligned back (more on the misalignment later) that we recently had the privilege of grading.

MPCs are colorful, attractive, and historically significant issues intended for exclusive use among American military personnel stationed overseas. While they were not made using the most sophisticated security-printing technologies and processes of their day, extensive quality control measures were taken and verification standards were in place during production that resulted in very few mistakes actually going out the door.

This inverted and misaligned back printing error failed to provoke detection by the skeptical eyes of operators and officials at not only Tudor Press in Boston where the multicolored lithography took place, but also at United States military facilities performing additional rounds of suitability assessments before shipment and final disbursement into circulation.

Making this note even scarcer is the fact that the overwhelming majority of MPCs from any given series were ordered withdrawn, devalued, destroyed, and replaced with new series MPCs on a frequent and sudden basis. So, a note like this represents a miracle of survival on multiple fronts. Any errors not detected and eliminated during the printing and distribution processes would almost certainly meet the cold, hard, steel blades of the Department of Defense paper shredders after its “C-day” – or conversion day, when most circulating MPCs were exchanged for fresh designs of notes that would be worth something the following morning.

The most shocking part of the error isn’t necessarily the fact that the back is printed upside-down vis-à-vis its face printing. What immediately stands out to the eye is that there are portions of two different reverse subjects, each split into halves, at the top and bottom of the note, with the white margin curiously running horizontally through the middle. In this context, the misalignment should not be considered its own classification of error (or a second, independent type of error in addition to the inverted back), but rather viewed more as a consequence of the inverted back.

Back printings were the first to occur and, after completion, sheets were fed into the presses to receive their faces. If sheets were accidentally loaded in the wrong direction, any difference in the sizes of top and bottom sheet selvage automatically resulted in an inverted back also appearing to be misaligned. Some may call this a “Type II” inverted back error to distinguish the misalignment from an ordinary (properly aligned) inverted reverse, but we decided to call out both features separately on the label.

If only errors in real life were this rare and cool!

Article provided by PCGS at
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