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50 Fun Facts About Cold Hard Cash

Posted By Jim On 01/29/2008 @ 7:02 am In Personal Finance | 20 Comments

Cash, cabbage, paper, scratch, scrizzle, dineros, dough, whatever you want to call it, it’s all means the same – it’s cold hard cash. There is plenty of useless and fun trivia about currency that is certainly fun to know and you guessed it, I’m going to give you at least fifty fun facts about currency, mostly US facts but a sprinkling of international ones near the end. The first bunch have to deal with US money history in general such as the creation of the Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, then moves onto specifics about the bills and coins such as what they are made of. Then we move onto some of the interesting facts that deal with counterfeiting. The 50 facts end with a few facts on what you should do with damaged or mutilated currency and then a few international facts for those of you looking to get an edge in Trivial Pursuit. I hope you enjoy it!

Oh, and in keeping with the tradition of these 50 fun facts posts, I added a few bonus facts so there are a few more than 50 in the list. If you enjoy this list, you might enjoy 50 Fun Facts about Credit Cards [3] and 50 Fun Facts about Banks [4].

US Money History

  • The Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first the issue paper money in the American colonies in 1690.
  • The Bureau of Engraving and Printing of the Department of the Treasury didn’t become the sole producer of currency until 1877.
  • In 1894, the production of postage stamps was added to the responsibilities of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
  • The Mint didn’t become part of the Department of the Treasury until 1873, before that they reported directly to the President.
  • The Mint is responsible for producing military medals (such as the Silver and Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart and the Navy Cross) as well as the Congressional Medals.
  • In 1865, the Secret Service Division of the Treasury Department was created to suppress counterfeit currency. Two years later, their mandate was expanded to include “detecting persons perpetrating frauds against the government.”
  • As an aside: the Secret Service didn’t start informally protecting Presidents until Grover Cleveland in 1894. They officially began protecting Presidents until 1913 though they received funding (they received funding and began protection Presidents as far back as William McKinley in 1907).
  • Legal tender refers to how currency can be used to satisfy “debts, public charges, taxes, and dues” but no one is required by law to accept it.

Bills & Coinage Facts

  • According to the Treasury Department, there are three reasons why US currency is green (the “greenback”): 1) That color ink was readily available in large quantities back when they were first being printed; 2) It is highly resistant to chemical and physical changes, and; 3) it’s a color that the public identifies with strong and stable credit.
  • Most coins have a copper filling with another metal on the outside, usually a mix of copper and nickel (75/25). Pennies are made of zinc coated in copper and nickels are entirely that copper and nickel mix.
  • In 1943, pennies were made of zinc coated steel to conserve copper for the war, it gave them that silverly look.
  • Between 1942 and 1945, during World War 2, nickels didn’t actually have nickel in them. It was a mix of copper, silver, and manganese.
  • With the exception of WW2, nickel has stayed the same material composition since it was first designed in 1866. It’s the only coin that has stayed the same.
  • Until 1804, none of the non-copper coins made in the US had their value engraved on it, people just had to know based on size. It wasn’t until the quarter in 1804 were the values engraved on the coin.
  • The first batch of coins produced by the Mint was 11,178 copper cents in March 1793.
  • “In God We Trust” was first put on coins in the Civil War but didn’t make it onto all coins until 1955.
  • “E Pluribus Unum” was first used in 1795. “E Pluribus Unum” means “One from Many,” one country from many states.
  • Abraham Lincoln was the first person to appear on a regular US coin in 1909.
  • Queen Isabella of Spain was the first woman to appear on a US commemorative coin in 1893. She’s also the only real person to appear on a coin produced by the Mint.
  • In general, living people don’t appear on US coins but Calvin Coolidge in 1926 became the first President on a coin while he was still alive.
  • To determine which Mint facility produced a coin, look for an engraved letter on the front. “P” means it came from Philadelphia, “D” means it came from Denver, and “S” means it came from San Francisco.
  • The lifespan of a coin is thirty years, the lifespan of a bill is a mere 18 months.
  • Bills today are 2.61″ wide by 6.14″ long with a thickness of 0.0043″.
  • Bills are made of a cotton (75%) and linen (25%) fiber mix known as “rag paper.” This is distinctly different from regular paper, made from the cellulose in trees. This helps the paper withstand wear and tear, like when you accidentally wash a hundred dollar bill in a pair of jeans!
  • Nearly half the bills printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are one dollar bills (~45.47%)
  • 95% of the bills printed each year are used to replace bills already in circulation.
  • Each bill is supposed to weigh about a gram, so there are 454 bills per pound. A million dollars in $100 bills would weigh a little over twenty-two pounds. If you used $1 bills, it’d be about a ton in weight.
  • If you instead used pennies, a million dollars would weigh around 246 tons!
  • If you were to stack a million $1 bills, it would be around 361 feet high.
  • Only one woman has ever appeared on a bill… can you guess who it was? Martha Washington appeared on the $1 Silver Certificate of 1886 and 1891, then appeared on the back of that bill in 1896. Not a single woman since!
  • It costs about 6.2 cents to print each bill (2007).
  • The cost to make each coin varies because of the material inside of them but a USA Today article [5] puts the price per penny at 1.23 cents and the price per nickel at around 5.73 as of mid-2006.
  • During the Civil War, 3 cent bills (“fractional currency”) were printed because coins were being hoarded for their intrinsic value. The largest denomination bills were the $100,000 bank transfer note in 1934.

Counterfeiting Facts

  • Do you know why there are ridges on the edges of coins? Back in the day, when coins were made of gold and silver, people would shave off or clip the edges of the coins and then save the shavings for later. While illegal, it was difficult to catch because coins were always irregularly shaped because of poor manufacturing so the ridges helped in detecting that.
  • It wasn’t until 1877 that Congress passed a bill that prohibited the counterfeiting of any coin, gold or silver bar.
  • It’s been estimated that between 1/3 and 1/2 of all bills in circulation after the Civil War were fakes! (this was the impetus for creating the Secret Service)
  • In 1980, 777,957 $50 and $100 were passed and seized. That number increased to 1,240,840 by 1990. (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco)
  • In 1994, with the Crime Bill Public Law 103-322, Title 18 USC Section 470 was revised to state that “any person manufacturing, trafficking in, or possessing counterfeit U.S. currency abroad may be prosecuted as if the act occurred within the United States.”
  • Counterfeiting money is a felony, convictions can result in prison sentences for as long as 15 years and fines of up to $15,000.
  • If you counterfeit a coin worth more than 5 cents, you’re subject to the same laws. If you alter an existing coin, you are violating Title 18, Section 331 of the USC. The crime is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or prison time of up to 5 years.
  • If you want to print funny money, make sure it’s a different size (50% larger or 25% smaller). If you print only in black and white, that’s okay too as long as you satisfy the size change.
  • Counterfeit bill detecting pens work by reacting with the cellulose found in regular paper. Since bills produced by the government is made on this special rag paper, it doesn’t react in the same way to the pen.
  • The ink used to print the bills are magnetic and so vending machines use that as one of the means of detecting whether a bill is legitimate (since it can’t rely on many of the usual methods people can such as touch).
  • The Treasury Department is looking to enhance the designs of bills every 7-10 years. This began with the $20 bill in October 2003.
  • On March 6th, 2004, Alice Regina Pike tried to pass a $1,000,000 bill [6] at a Wal-Mart in Georgia (the largest bill in use is the $100). She might have gotten away if she only used a $200 bill [7]!

Damaged/Mutilated Bills & Coins

  • If you have a damaged bill and you have more than half, you can bring it to a commercial bank to be replaced. The bank will then send it to the Fed along with other damaged and worn bills.
  • If it’s damaged and you have less than half, you’ll have to send it to the Treasury Department.
  • Damaged coins? Same process, except the bank goes to the Mint.

International Money Facts

  • Largest numerical denomination bill ever is 1 Milliard Hungarian PengÅ‘ (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) in 1946. (Wikipedia [8]) It was only worth twenty cents US! Hyper-Inflation is rough.
  • The oldest currency bills known to have existed come from China and the Han and Tan Dynasties. The earliest bills to still exist (as in not disintegrated) come from the Ming Dynasty and were issued between 1368-1399.
  • The largest bill by size is the 100,000 Piso of the Philippines according to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s about the size of legal paper.
  • In 180 other countries, differently denominated bills are different in either color or size or both. In the US, all bills are of uniform size and similarly colored – an issue that has been taken up with the courts lately.

If you thirst for more facts, there are plenty at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing [9]. Also, if you’re a fan of looking at old bills, you can check out this incredible American Currency Exhibit [10] provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.


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[1] Tweet: http://twitter.com/share

[2] Email: mailto:?subject=http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/50-fun-facts-about-cold-hard-cash.html

[3] 50 Fun Facts about Credit Cards: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/50-fun-facts-about-credit-cards.html

[4] 50 Fun Facts about Banks: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/50-fun-facts-about-banks.html

[5] USA Today article: http://www.usatoday.com/money/2006-05-09-penny-usat_x.htm

[6] tried to pass a $1,000,000 bill: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/fakemillion1.html

[7] used a $200 bill: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/bushbill1.html

[8] Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peng%C5%91

[9] Bureau of Engraving and Printing: http://www.moneyfactory.gov/

[10] American Currency Exhibit: http://www.frbsf.org/currency/bills.html

Thank you for reading!