Billy Baeder has one heck of a $10 bill.
Looks like something you could get in change at the Acme.
But it just might be the most valuable piece of U.S. currency printed since 1929, when bills were shrunk to their current size.
$500,000 might be a reasonable asking price, one auctioneer estimates.
Not that Baeder, a Royersford dealer/collector and co-owner of a car repair shop, is ready to sell.
Welcome to the wild world of currency collecting, where a "fancy serial number," a printing mistake, or even just a star can mean a lot of moolah, especially on a rare or historic kind of bank note.
Find a bill with a serial number that's low (starting with 00000001) a "radar" (same backward and forward), a "solid" (every digit the same), a "ladder" (digits count up or down), a "double quad" (like 77773333), or has one of a half-dozen other patterns, and you might have a prize that blows the face value away.
Recently, Baeder, paid $2,000 for a 2006 $1 bill, with the serial number 00000001, that a woman got in change at Walmart.
In better condition, it might have been worth triple, said Baeder, a 39-year-old married father of three. Thus his advice about handling that crispy new bill: "Don't fold it!" Check the serial number first.
Another tip: Know an older relative with a stash of cash? Check it. Last year, a woman called about a $1 bill with solid 7s her mother got in change two decades or so ago. It was gathering dust in a drawer and turned out to be a Silver Certificate with a star, indicating it replaced a flawed original. Baeder paid several thousand dollars.
Currency collecting is not as popular as coin collecting, "but there's a ton of people doing it," Baeder said. About 20 shows are held around the country each year, like the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Expo, held last month in Philadelphia and next month in Baltimore.
Baeder's father, William Sr., who died in May, began collecting back in the seventies, after noticing odd bills in all the cash handled at the family business, Willie's Auto & Truck Repair. It was a fixture for decades on Castor Avenue in the Northeast until Billy and his brother-in-law, Gary Witzel, moved the shop to Royersford in 2010.
"Blunders, offsets, ink smears ... serial numbers upside-down," were among the misprints his father began noticing and collecting, Billy Baeder says.
"He picked up stuff like this all the time because there was so much cash coming in," said Baeder, who with his brother-in-law, Gary Witzel, moved their shop to Royersford in 2010. "It's not like today, with all the credit cards."
Soon, his dad was going to shows, getting hooked on fancy serial numbers, and buying coveted stuff. Some early purchases, in hindsight, proved to be amazing bargains, because prices didn't soar until the 1990s and 2000s, Baeder said.
In 1977, at a show at the Adam's Mark Hotel, Willie Baeder bought a 1928 $500 bill for $1,500. He sold it for $225,000 in 2003.
As a child, Billy tagged along, building a coin collection. But his breakthrough contribution happened in the late 1990s, when he suggested they try selling bills on eBay. His father gave him a few to try, including a $100 note with a star. He hoped for $600. It sold for $1,200.
"He was floored," Billy recalls. "You gotta be kidding me," his dad said.
Billy came up with the name USA Rare at the dining room table in Hatboro, and the website was born. No more having to sell to dealers who'd flip items for much higher prices.
Now, USA Rare does about $1 million in sales a year, across a huge price range, with listings from a few dollars to tens of thousands. The years span from an 1875 $10 note issued by the Farmers National Bank of Lancaster to the October-released redesigned $100 bill. Baeder already has several new Franklins with fancy serial numbers, including two radars, 41111114 and 09900990.
Baeder also goes to auctions, representing clients, including a billionaire, he said.
Today, Baeder's whole collection, made up of perhaps 1,000 notes gathered over more 30 years, is worth upward of $1.5 million, he said.
And roughly a third of that is based on just one $10 bill.
It's a 1933 $10 Silver Certificate, which bears an unusual inscription, "Payable in silver coin to bearer on demand," and has a serial number that's No. 1 and one of a kind: A00000001A.
"This is an amazing note," said Lyn Knight of Lyn Knight Auctions, one of the nation's top players in the fancy serial numbers trade.
"This is legit ... It's very legit," stated Michael Abramson of Executive Currency, saying of Baeder, "He and I are the nation's two largest dealers in paper money with fancy serial numbers."
"That No.1 note would easily be worth about 500,000 and up," said Matthew Quinn, assistant director of currency for auction house Stack's Bowers, which has offices in Paris and Hong Kong, as well as a handful of U.S. cities.
Any 1933 Silver Certificate is valuable, because after the government printed 552,000 of them, it released only about one-third, then soon set about destroying the rest and trying to remove as many as possible from circulation, according to Paper Money magazine. The Treasury was pushing a redesign after legislation authorized notes redeemable for any form of silver, not just "silver coin."
By June 1935, only about 15,000 remained, ensuring they'd all be rarities.
"Find one of the most beat-up ones available ... and that note will still be worth $5,000," said Quinn.
Some currency printed before the downsizing of 1929 has sold for more than $500,000, but nothing printed since. Stack's Bowers set the record this year when it sold privately an 1891 $1,000 Silver Certificate for $2.6 million.
The 1933 No. 1 note's chief competition is being offered through Abramson for $495,000. It's a 1966 $100 "Legal Tender" note with the serial number A00000001A and a red seal. "This is the single most coveted piece of small size U. S. paper money," asserts the Executive Currency listing.
Abramson likes to say that he has the "king," while Baeder has the "queen."
"Yeah, I have the queen and the queen's always right," responds Baeder.
Ultimately, the matter won't be settled until both notes are sold, but Baeder isn't selling, partly because this prize catch was landed by his recently departed father.
"If someone came to me and wanted to give me $500,000 for it, I would not sell it," Baeder said, adding he's already turned down an offer of $300,000.
His father bought it for about the price of compact car about two dozen years ago – from Abramson.
"It was priced at a level I now regret," Abramson said. "I sold it to his dad and I would like to get it back, but I can't."