Dear Matthew Alice: When I opened my wallet this morning (Christmas morning, no less), I pulled out a dollar bill that had a little star on it — right after the serial number, where a letter of the alphabet would usually be! What does it mean? Is it some kind of secret code to prevent counterfeiting? And since my star-anointed dollar bill seems to be unique, will it be valuable one day (in a biplane- upside-down-on-a-postage-stamp sort of fashion)? Or since the star appeared on Christmas Day, does it portend some great omen? Will the three Wise Men bring me gold and frankincense and myrrh? Will I be lucky?— J02 Lee Zion, USS Kitty Hawk
Thinkin’ maybe you’ve won the Federal Reserve’s equivalent of the Big Spin — five minutes running amok in Fort Knox with a shopping cart? If you’ve taped that bill to the bottom of the toilet tank for safekeeping, I’d suggest you rip it off and take it down to the 7-Eleven and invest it in a Slurpee or something, ’cause all you have is what’s called a star note. It just means that somebody at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing screwed up. As you can imagine, quality control is a major concern when you’re printing currency. When a substandard bill comes off the press, it’s destroyed, then reprinted with the same serial number followed by a star to indicate that it’s a replacement. The bills are unusual, but hardly collector’s items. About 56 million star notes are issued each year, less than one-half of one percent of all bills printed annually. Sorry, Joe, but your life really is tedious and uneventful, just as you suspected all along.