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kottke.org posts about currency

How We Do Money in America Is Insane

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2022

I enjoyed this roast of how we handle money in America by The Daily Show’s Ronny Chieng.

He goes after income & sales taxes:

America decided filing taxes should be as quick and painless as getting a root canal at the DMV. You got your 1099s, your Form 1040, your Schedule C, your R2-D2, your Blink-182. You spend days trying to figure out what you owe the government and then the government tells you if are you right because apparently they knew the whole frigging time. It is like the world’s most pointless game show.

Tipping:

Everywhere else, a tip is a show of appreciation, not a GoFundMe for someone who doesn’t earn a living wage. A waiter’s ability to pay rent shouldn’t be dependent on how generous Becky feels after three martinis.

And our currency:

In other countries, every denomination is a different size because it makes it easier to tell them apart, especially if you are blind. But apparently blind people don’t need to use money in America ‘cause look at this shit. Same exact size, all of it. You gotta look over each individual bill to figure out which slaveowner to hand over.

(thx, meg)

The Del Monte $20 Bill

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2022

A misprinted $20 bill with a Del Monte banana sticker on it

Somehow, during the printing process at a US Treasury Department printing facility, this $20 bill got a Del Monte banana sticker affixed to it…and then the seal and serial number was printed over it. The bill, known as the Del Monte Note, was sold at auction in January 2021 for $396,000.

US Quarter Featuring Maya Angelou Starts Circulating

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2022

US quarter featuring Maya Angelou on the reverse side

The US Mint has started shipping a quarter featuring poet & activist Maya Angelou on it.

A writer, poet, performer, social activist, and teacher, Angelou rose to international prominence as an author after the publication of her groundbreaking autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Angelou’s published works of verse, non-fiction, and fiction include more than 30 bestselling titles. Her remarkable career encompasses dance, theater, journalism, and social activism.

The front of the Angelou quarter features a portrait of George Washington (a slaveowner, I feel it is important to note) that is different from the usual image on regular quarters. The new image was sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser in 1931:

In 1931, Congress held a competition to design a coin to honor the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. The original competition called for the obverse of the coin to feature a portrait of George Washington, based on the famed life-mask bust by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The reverse was to feature a design that was to be “national” in nature.

Laura Gardin Fraser submitted a design that features a right-facing portrait of George Washington on the obverse, while the reverse shows an eagle with wings spread wide. In a 1932 letter to recommend Fraser’s design, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) wrote to (then) Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon:

“This bust is regarded by artists who have studied it as the most authentic likeness of Washington. Such was the skill of the artist in making this life-mask that it embodies those high qualities of the man’s character which have given him a place among the great of the world…Simplicity, directness, and nobility characterize it. The design has style and elegance…The Commission believes that this design would present to the people of this country the Washington whom they revere.”

While her design was popular, it was not chosen. Instead, Secretary Mellon ultimately selected the left-facing John Flannigan design, which has appeared on the quarter’s obverse since 1932.

the obverse side (with George Washington) of a US quarter featuring Maya Angelou on the reverse side

The Angelou quarter is the first in a series of quarters featuring notable American women:

Beginning in 2022 and continuing through 2025, the Mint will issue five quarters in each of these years. The ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse group of individuals honored through this program reflects a wide range of accomplishments and fields, including suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts. The additional honorees in 2022 are physicist and first woman astronaut Dr. Sally Ride; Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and an activist for Native American and women’s rights; Nina Otero-Warren, a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood, who achieved international success despite racism and discrimination.

The Angelou quarter will start circulating later this month and early next month — look for it in your change soon!

US Quarters to Honor Maya Angelou and Sally Ride

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2021

US quarters featuring Sally Ride and Maya Angelou

Starting in 2022, the US Mint will release into circulation 20 quarters featuring notable American women as part of the American Women Quarters Program. From the US Mint:

The American Women Quarters may feature contributions from a variety of fields, including, but not limited to, suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts. The women honored will be from ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse backgrounds. The Public Law requires that no living person be featured in the coin designs.

The Mint recently announced that the first two women to be featured are astronaut Sally Ride and writer Maya Angelou. The designs for the two new coins were revealed in the NY Times yesterday.

New Alan Turing £50 Banknote Revealed

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2021

50 Pounds Turing

The Bank of England unveiled the final design of the new £50 banknote honoring mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing.

Commenting on the new note, Governor Andrew Bailey said: “There’s something of the character of a nation in its money, and we are right to consider and celebrate the people on our banknotes. So I’m delighted that our new £50 features one of Britain’s most important scientists, Alan Turing. Turing is best known for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, which helped end the Second World War. However in addition he was a leading mathematician, developmental biologist, and a pioneer in the field of computer science. He was also gay, and was treated appallingly as a result. By placing him on our new polymer £50 banknote, we are celebrating his achievements, and the values he symbolises”.

The note will be placed into circulation beginning June 23, 2021. As part of the introduction of the note, GCHQ (the successor agency to the one Turing worked for) has created a series of 12 puzzles for folks to decipher. Good luck!

Dollar Bill Portraits of Powerful Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2020

Dollar bill portrait of AOC

Dollar bill portrait of Cardi B

Artist Claire Salvo is painting portraits of women — mainly women of color — over the depictions of slave-holding Presidents on the front of US currency. You can see her work on Instagram; here are the portraits of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Kamala Harris, Cardi B, Billie Eilish, and Michelle Obama. Each portrait is accompanied by a time lapse video of its creation.

Hand-Engraved Coin with a Beating Heart

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2019

Beating Heart Coin

Roman Butin is a Russian artist who modifies coins with elaborate hand-engraved designs of his own. His latest creation is a coin with a beating heart. Here is the tiny mechanism in action…you turn the gear at the bottom of the coin and the heart beats!

Wow. You can check out the heart coin, a Banksy coin, this trap coin, a golden bug coin with working wings, and more of his work on Instagram. Heads or Tales has replicas of a few of Butin’s creations for sale.

US Postal Service Unveils 50th Anniversary Apollo 11 Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2019

Apollo 11 Usps

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, the USPS is releasing a pair of stamps with lunar imagery.

One stamp features a photograph of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in his spacesuit on the surface of the moon. The image was taken by astronaut Neil Armstrong. The other stamp, a photograph of the moon taken in 2010 by Gregory H. Revera of Huntsville, AL, shows the landing site of the lunar module in the Sea of Tranquility. The site is indicated on the stamp by a dot.

These pair nicely with the US Mint’s Apollo 11 commemorative coins.

Apollo 11 Mint Coin

(via swissmiss)

Notable Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2018

As Treasurer of the United States in the Obama administration, Rosie Rios pushed hard for the inclusion of more women on US currency, culminating in the selection of Harriet Tubman for the new $20 bill. But with many more amazing women left on the list for inclusion on currency, Rios partnered with Google to create Notable Women, an augmented reality app that puts an historic American women on any US bill you hold up to your phone’s camera. Here’s how it works:

The app’s tagline is “swapping out the faces we all know for the faces we all should” and is available on iOS and Android. You can also view the modified notes on the website, like Sojourner Truth, Madam C.J. Walker, Margaret Bourke-White, and Maria Mitchell.

Notable Women

Notable Women

Notable Women

See also The Harriet Tubman Stamp.

The Harriet Tubman $20 Stamp

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Frustrated that the US Treasury Department is walking back plans to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, Dano Wall created a 3D-printed stamp that can be used to transform Jacksons into Tubmans on the twenties in your pocketbook.

Tubman $20 Stamp

Here’s a video of the stamp in action. Wall told The Awesome Foundation a little bit about the genesis of the project:

I was inspired by the news that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, and subsequently saddened by the news that the Trump administration was walking back that plan. So I created a stamp to convert Jacksons into Tubmans myself. I have been stamping $20 bills and entering them into circulation for the last year, and gifting stamps to friends to do the same.

If you have access to a 3D printer (perhaps at your local library or you can also use a online 3D printing service), you can download the print files at Thingiverse and make your own stamp for use at home.

Wall also posted a link to some neat prior art: suffragettes in Britain modifying coins with a “VOTES FOR WOMEN” slogan in the early 20th century.

Votes For Women Coin

Update: Several men on Twitter are helpfully pointing out that, in their inexpert legal opinion, defacing bills in this way is illegal. Here’s what the law says (emphasis mine):

Defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. Under this provision, currency defacement is generally defined as follows: Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

The “with intent” bit is important, I think. The FAQ for a similar project has a good summary of the issues involved.

But we are putting political messages on the bills, not commercial advertisements. Because we all want these bills to stay in circulation and we’re stamping to send a message about an issue that’s important to us, it’s legal!

I’m not a lawyer, but as long as your intent isn’t to render these bills “unfit to be reissued”, you’re in the clear. Besides, if civil disobedience doesn’t stray into the gray areas of the law, is it really disobedience? (via @patrick_reames)

Update: Adafruit did an extensive investigation into the legality of this project. Their conclusion? “The production of the instructional video and the stamping of currency are both well within the law.”

Time lapse of an English five pound note reconstructed from shredded production waste

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2018

When the Bank of England misprints banknotes, they shred them into tiny little pieces. In this time lapse video, compressed from an entire work day into 11 minutes, a person with a tweezers attempts to reconstruct a five pound note from those tiny shredded pieces. For reference, here’s what the five pound note actually looks like.

Currency blankets from Hiller Dry Goods

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2018

Hiller Currency

Hiller Currency

Nick Hiller has rebooted his great-great-grandfather’s textiles & dry goods store (established in Detroit in 1904) as an online shop. The first collection is called the Currency Blankets Collection, and features lovely blankets inspired by patterns on banknotes from around the world.

For thousands of years, textiles were so basic to survival that they functioned as a form of currency. In Mesoamerica, the Zapotecs paid tribute in woven rugs to the ruling Aztecs; in North America, the Navajos transacted in Pendleton blankets with European settlers; in West Africa, the Wolof in Gambia used “cloth money” in standardized strips that could be torn to make change; in medieval Iceland, a woolen fabric called wadmal (Old Norse for “legal cloth”) was the official currency for over 600 years. Even the Silk Road, civilization’s first global trade network, was named after the route’s dominant form of currency.

The blankets in the collection are manufactured in the US and reflect banknotes from France, the US (the pattern is a super zoom of Ben Franklin’s cheek on the $100 bill), Romania, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Argentina, and several others.

Norway’s new pixelated banknotes are gorgeous

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Norway Banknotes

Norway Banknotes

Back in 2014, I posted that Norway would start using new banknotes in 2017 featuring an abstract pixelated design on the reverse of each note. Time did the only thing it knows how to do so here we are in 2017 and the bills will begin circulating later this year. The overall theme for the notes is “The Sea”:

Norway’s long, gnarled coastline has shaped the identity of Norwegians individually and as a nation. The use of marine resources, combined with the use of the sea as a transport artery, has been crucial to the development of Norwegian society.

And each particular note has its own subtheme:

The 50-krone banknote: The sea that binds us together
The 100-krone banknote: The sea that takes us out into the world
The 200-krone banknote: The sea that feeds us
The 500-krone banknote: The sea that gives us prosperity
The 1000-krone banknote: The sea that carries us forward

The final design concept by Terje Tønnessen was chosen from among several finalists. I love the final design but also really like the concept by Aslak Gurholt with a children’s drawing on the back of each note echoing the illustration on the front.

Norway Banknotes Gurholt

Also of note (ha!): Norges Bank crowdsourced several aspects of the design process but managed to do it in such a way as to avoid the Boaty McBoatface problem.

What the hell is Bitcoin?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2015

I’ve read a lot of explanations about blockchains and Bitcoin but What Satoshi Did is among the best of them.

This invention works in two parts. Constructing a shared ledger amongst all participants was the first step. By sharing the entire ledger of transactions, all participants could convince themselves that their own transactions were validly entered, that all value derived from an authentic source, and that the entire ledger balanced.

The second part was to agree on the ledger. Using induction, and agreeing on all prior ledger states, Satoshi reduced the problem to agreeing what each new appending block is. The first batch, or genesis block, was created by Satoshi. The next block, and each successive block, included a consensus signature over this block and the previous block, creating a chain of blocks, or the blockchain.

Let’s get rid of the penny

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2015

This week on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver rails against the penny. This seems like such an obvious thing, that we should stop using pennies, but I bet if the government ever moved to ban pennies, it would set off a firestorm of protest.

Artisanal cash

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2015

Artisanal Cash

Cities, businesses, and artists are producing small batches of paper currency designed to be spent locally. I love the £20 note from Bristol, England (above)…it’s got Wallace’s head on it!

The local currency, though, is intended not as collectible but to encourage trade at the community businesses where they are accepted, rather than chain stores, where money taken in tends to flow out of town and into the coffers of multinational corporations. (Compare it to the farmers’ market: Homegrown lettuce now has a whole new meaning.)

“If you use a local currency, you keep the money local, and that has a ‘lifts all boats’ vibe to it,” said David Wolman, the author of “The End of Money.”

The Hungarian Euro

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2015

For her master’s project, Barbara Bernát designed a set of fictional banknotes: the Hungarian Euro.

Hungarian euro

I am a total sucker for banknote mockups and aside from the simplicity, what caught my eye about Bernát’s project is the one security feature: if you look at the notes under a UV light, you see the skeletons of the animals depicted on the notes:

Hungarian Euro

(via @shaylamaddox)

Master counterfeiter

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2014

Counterfeit 20s

Wells Tower recently profiled master counterfeiter Frank Bourassa for GQ. Bourassa made $200 million in nearly flawless fake US twenties in a barn in Canada, got caught, and, you get the feeling pretty early on in the piece, didn’t really do any time for the crime.

Drawing on cautionary news reports of failed counterfeiters, Frank sketched out a set of best-practice guidelines for his new concern. First, “don’t ever try to pass the money yourself. You want to be as far away as possible from where the money’s being spent.” Second, “don’t sell your stuff to anyone who’s going to be passing it locally. I knew from the beginning, I needed to sell my bills to Europe or Asia.” Third, resist the temptation to print big bills. “Do twenties. It’s stupid to try to pass hundred-dollar bills anymore. People look at them all day long, hold it up to the light and everything. Nobody looks twice at a twenty.” Fourth, don’t cheap out. Most of the people who try their luck at counterfeiting do so by breathtakingly broke-dick means, with stuff you can buy at Office Depot.

“Can you make bills on a $50 ink-jet? Sure, if you want to get busted right away,” said Frank. “All the security features in a bill are basically there to stop broke fucking-moron assholes who are trying to do their thing on an ink-jet. I knew if I wanted to succeed, my bills had to be as perfect as possible, as close as possible to the way the bills are actually made.”

Don’t miss the video of Bourassa examining one of the new $US100 bills. He doesn’t really come off as someone organized enough to pull something like this off, which was probably advantageous to him in actually (almost) doing so. There’s much more information about Bourassa on his web site.

Norway’s new pixel money

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2014

This is the design that Norway has chosen for their banknotes starting in 2017:

Norway Pixel Banknote

From now on, I’m paying for everything with kroner. (via co.design)

Living large on Bitcoin

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2014

One way or another, Bitcoin is going to be huge. It could be the as big as the Internet, it could transform into something else, or it could be one of tech’s biggest busts. Meanwhile, many of us are still wondering exactly what it is (it’s both a currency and means of transporting that currency). GQ’s Marshall Sella decided to score some of this newfangled dough and “blow it on all the pleasures that Bitcoin can buy.” Sex, Drugs, and Toasters: My Life on Bitcoin.

Within two months, I’d be visiting Charlie Shrem at his parents’ place, where he was wearing an ankle monitor and living under house arrest.

(That sounds like the beginning of every great startup story.)

The journey of a penny

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2014

Chris Ware Penny

Chris Ware follows the wanderings of a penny in his latest piece for the NY Times.

Bitcoin inventor found

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2014

People had assumed that the name of the secretive creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, was a pseudonym designed to protect his anonymity. Newsweek’s Leah McGrath Goodman tracked down a man who could be the Bitcoin founder and discovered that his real name is…Satoshi Nakamoto.

Two police officers from the Temple City, Calif., sheriff’s department flank him, looking puzzled. “So, what is it you want to ask this man about?” one of them asks me. “He thinks if he talks to you he’s going to get into trouble.”

“I don’t think he’s in any trouble,” I say. “I would like to ask him about Bitcoin. This man is Satoshi Nakamoto.”

“What?” The police officer balks. “This is the guy who created Bitcoin? It looks like he’s living a pretty humble life.”

I’d come here to try to find out more about Nakamoto and his humble life. It seemed ludicrous that the man credited with inventing Bitcoin - the world’s most wildly successful digital currency, with transactions of nearly $500 million a day at its peak - would retreat to Los Angeles’s San Bernardino foothills, hole up in the family home and leave his estimated $400 million of Bitcoin riches untouched. It seemed similarly implausible that Nakamoto’s first response to my knocking at his door would be to call the cops. Now face to face, with two police officers as witnesses, Nakamoto’s responses to my questions about Bitcoin were careful but revealing.

Tacitly acknowledging his role in the Bitcoin project, he looks down, staring at the pavement and categorically refuses to answer questions.

“I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it,” he says, dismissing all further queries with a swat of his left hand. “It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”

Nice bit of sleuthing by Goodman. But given the interest around Bitcoin, it’s amazing that it took this long, even with Nakamoto’s first name change.

Update: The subject of Newsweek’s story now denies he was the creator of Bitcoin.

Is Bitcoin a speculative bubble?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2013

Bitcoin is a digital currency that has increased in value in US$ by 900% over the past six months. Jason Kuznicki says Bitcoin is definitely a speculative bubble and has three graphs to illustrate his point. I found this one particularly interesting…it plots transactions vs. total Bitcoin market cap:

Bitcoin Transactions

This chart shows a dramatic reduction in the total number of transactions, irrespective of size, per dollar of bitcoin’s market cap, from December 2012 — December 2013. In absolute terms, market cap has generally gone up, and the number of transactions has mostly just bounced around a lot. The total value of bitcoin is going up, but it’s mostly getting parked rather than being put to work. Apparently there just aren’t a lot of appealing ways to spend bitcoin, anecdotal news stories to the contrary notwithstanding.

Instead, an increasing amount of bitcoin’s putative value (as measured in USD) is being squirreled away by larger and larger miner-investors. It’s not fueling a diversifying, all-bitcoin economy: if it were, transactions would be keeping up with or even outpacing market cap, particularly if bitcoiners came to rely increasingly on bitcoins and decreasingly on dollars for day-to-day purchases. That’s very clearly not happening.

The Wire’s Omar Little once said to Marlo Stanfield, “Man, money ain’t got no owners, only spenders.” Bitcoin seems to have the opposite problem. (via mr)

The art of currency

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2013

Mark Wagner constructs intricate works of collage out of pieces of US $1 bills.

Abe Money

George Stroll Money

Bee George Money

I love that last one. No Photoshop…he cuts and assembles the pieces by hand:

Expensive dollar bills

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2013

File this under “markets in everything”: people will pay big money for US currency notes with interesting serial numbers.

In addition to the “low numbers,” which stop at 100, there are “ladders,” which have numbers in sequence, such as 12345678 or 54321098. These sell for as much as $1,300. A “radar” (selling for $20 to $40) is a palindrome, such as 35299253, and “repeaters” are notes with two blocks of the same four digits, like 41884188. Undis observes subcategories of each of these, such as “super radars” ($75 to $100) that have all internal digits the same, like 46666664.

And here I thought I was being pretty eagle-eyed by fishing a $2 bill out of the tip jar at the bagel place this morning. (via digg)

Physicists on money

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2013

Some countries, the cool ones, put physicists and other scientists on their money. Here’s Niels Bohr on the Danish 500 kroner note:

Niels Bohr Currency

Even the US sneaks onto the cool list with Ben Franklin on the $100.

The new $100 bill

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2013

US currency is already embarrassing and this new design for the $100 bill is not helping.

New 100

This may be worse than the horrible US passport.

Huge photos of small currencies

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2013

For a project called The Fundamental Units, Martin John Callanan used a very powerful 3D microscope to take 400-megapixel images of the lowest denomination coin from each of the world’s 166 active currencies. This is the 1 stotinki coin from Bulgaria:

Fundamental Units

And this is a small part of that same coin at tremendous zoom:

Fundamental Units Close

More information is available here.

Dollar Redesign Project

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2009

Richard Smith is hosting the Dollar Redesign Project, which is starting to attract some interesting redesigns of American paper currency.

Washington five dollar bill

Ministry of Type has some further analysis, including a comparison to European bills.

Cool new Dutch coin

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2008

Matthew Dent’s new coinage for the UK was pretty great, but this Dutch commemorative coin is a fully contemporary chunk of wow.

Dutch Coin

On the front, the names of famous Dutch architects form an image of the queen while some Dutch architecture books on the back form an outline of The Netherlands. The design was done using free software running on Ubuntu/Debian. (via design observer)