Treasury Has a Hit With 'Prosperity Notes'

The Treasury Department recently sold 44,000 one-dollar bills to one person — at a price of $5.95 apiece.

The bills weren't even all that special — they weren't very old, and they didn't have any major flaws that made them valuable to collectors.

What they did have though, was four number eights in a row in their serial numbers — a sign of luck to many people of Asian descent.

And that's made the bills popular. The Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing says it has sold over 70,000 such "prosperity notes" to thousands of people around the world — not including the huge sale to one individual.

Edward Sheehan, a marketing manager at the Treasury said the bills have been "very popular."

"It's not only been a prosperity note for people who buy these notes, but also a prosperous venture for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing," he said.

88 Me

For the $5.95, customers get their bills mounted in a red cardboard envelope decorated with Chinese characters and the words, "Lucky Money."

Sheehan said it's possible to get dollar bills with four 8s in the serial number by chance, but the "prosperity notes" for sale by the Treasury are fresh and never-circulated.

Sheehan said the idea came from two Chinese-American Treasury employees, who also helped marketing and helped design the packaging.

The number 8 is so popular because the word in Cantonese is a pun for the word "to prosper." Confucianism and Buddhism also have eight emblems, and the emblem of the I-Ching has eight sides.

As a result, many businesses in Asian communities include the number 8 in their names, if not their addresses — like "88 Gifts" or "888 Sea Food."

Realtors also say that Asian customers are sometimes willing to pay a premium for properties whose addresses contain an 8.

In a similar fashion, many Asians are averse to the number 4. It's considered bad luck, because the word in Japanese, Chinese and Korean also sounds like the word for "death."

Instant Hit

The bills were initially introduced in October 2000, when the Treasury decided to give them a trial run at the Long Beach Coin and Collectibles Expo in California.

Sheehan said they took about 3,000 of the bills to the show — and with a low introductory show price of $3.95, they sold out.

But he added, "had we had more we would have sold those."

The bills have been on sale ever since. Sheehan says they did "booming business" at Chinese New Year in February, and had another explosion of interest after a coin show in New York in May.

The majority of buyers do seem to be Asian, Sheehan said — but he said there was also a "significant minority" who were not.

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