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Q: Defacing US currency? ( Answered,   7 Comments )
Subject: Defacing US currency?
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Visual Arts
Asked by: hickey35-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 09 Nov 2004 11:00 PST
Expires: 09 Dec 2004 11:00 PST
Question ID: 426715
Is it Illegal to compose a sculpture out of US coins?  Small holes are
drilled for fabrication. What are the legal risks?
Subject: Re: Defacing US currency?
Answered By: tutuzdad-ga on 09 Nov 2004 11:37 PST
Dear hickey35-ga;

Thank you for allowing me to answer your interesting question.
Defacing US currency is indeed illegal. Defacement of currency in such
a way that it is made unfit for circulation comes under the
jurisdiction of the United States Secret Service:

United States Code 
 333. Mutilation of national bank obligations 

?Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or
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, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System,
with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence
of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or
imprisoned not more than six months, or both.?

Prior to 1994 when this law was amended, the statute read ?fined not
more than $100?. This was changed in 1994 to read ?shall be fined
under this title? which effectively gives the court the authority to
impose a fine at its discretion. Of course the imprisonment terms
mentioned in the statute speaks for itself.


This next statute concerns the defacing of currently circulated coins,
either foreign or domestic:

United States Code
 331. Mutilation, diminution, and falsification of coins

?Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes,
falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of
the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current
or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States;
or whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or
sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into
the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered,
defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled, or
lightened? Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than
five years, or both.?

Like the statute I previously discussed, prior to 1994 when this law
was amended, the statute read ?fined not more than $2,000?. This was
changed in 1994 to read ?shall be fined under this title? which
effectively gives the court the authority to impose a fine at its
discretion. Of course the imprisonment terms mentioned in the statute
speaks for itself.


?Do people sometimes do this and get away with it?? 
Sure they do. We've all seen it and yet no one seems to be swooping
down on the violators to haul them off to jail.

?If this is the law spelled out before us in black and white then why
doesn?t the government prosecute everyone who does it??
Your guess is as good as mine; but nevertheless, there?s the law, just
as it is written and just as you asked.

I hope you find that my research exceeds your expectations. If you
have any questions about my research please post a clarification
request prior to rating the answer. Otherwise I welcome your rating
and your final comments and I look forward to working with you again
in the near future. Thank you for bringing your question to us.

Best regards;
Tutuzdad-ga ? Google Answers Researcher






Google ://











Subject: Re: Defacing US currency?
From: redsnapper-ga on 18 Jan 2005 12:20 PST
But ... but ... but ...
We've all seen coin-operated souvenir machines at places like the zoo,
and Disneyland, and Six Flags, etc., whose sole purpose is to deface
coins!  I vaguely recall seeing some sort of notice on some of them
having to do with the legality of their function, but don't even
recall whether it says that there is some legal exception that they
operate within, or whether their isn't (i.e. "caveat defacer").  But
what I don't quite get is if it is unconditionally illegal to deface
coins, how does some company manage to get away with such blatant
violations?  So my question is, basically, aren't there exceptions
under the law that you didn't uncover in your original response?
Subject: Re: Defacing US currency?
From: markj-ga on 18 Jan 2005 13:55 PST
redsnapper --

The key word in the statutory provision regarding defacing coins is
"fraudulently."  Here's just one relevant link:

Subject: Re: Defacing US currency?
From: leskowitz-ga on 18 Jan 2005 13:56 PST
I looked into this as well in the past,   I wanted to press quarters
for fun. Here is what the penny press machine makers stance is on the

"IT'S LEGAL! U.S. Title 18, Chapter 17, Section 331: Prohibits among
other things, fraudulent alteration and mutilation of coins. This
statue does not, however, prohibit the mutilation of coins if done
without fraudulent intent if the mutilated coins are not used

Basically, if you are not using it fraudulently then you can alter the coin.
Subject: Re: Defacing US currency?
From: redsnapper-ga on 18 Jan 2005 15:47 PST
Someone just pointed me to the web site:
This guy claims the following:
   "**Legal Information: It is against the Law to deface US Currency
that is in circulation. It is not illegal to cut and enhance currency
that has been removed from circulation, such as these used for
Jewelry, Money Clips and Belt Buckles, So you need not worry about the

Sounds to me like he's taken it upon himself to "remove the coins from
circulation," by turning it into jewelry.  In other words, he's
saying, "If it's out of circulation, I can turn it into jewelry.  If I
turn it into jewelry, it's out of circulation."  This is what's known
in the art as "circular reasoning."

If the law is indeed written to make it illegal to deface coin that's
in circulation, there's a reason.  (Based on the law quoted in the
Google answer, if that's indeed the whole story, it clearly says that
any currency which represents a debt to the monetary system is what's
covered.)  Here's what I think is behind the law: until the monetary
system itself chooses to remove coin or currency from circulation, it
still represents a debt to said system.  If somebody else (e.g. Larry
at Knots Berry Farm) removes it from circulation (e.g. by turning it
into jewelry), unless they send a detailed accounting to the Fed of
how much money they've removed, then the Fed doesn't know that its
outstanding debt has been reduced.  So my take is that Knots Berry
Larry, and all those souvenir coin machines, are strictly illegal.  A
collegue of mine says the US Treasury web site states simply that they
choose to turn a blind eye to the practice -- my guess is because they
know that a small percentage of coin and currency gets unaccountably
lost from circulation all the time anyway (like the stuff we didn't
find on the street at lunch, and the dollars that get washed into
oblivion and/or swallowed by clothes dryers), and the amount that's
turned into jewelry or other works of art is still noise on top of the
already unaccounted losses.  But if we all started turning 50% of our
loose change into jewelry, I'll bet the Treasury Dept. would quickly
start throwing people in jail until the practice ceased.
Subject: Re: Defacing US currency?
From: floridastate-ga on 14 Mar 2005 11:02 PST
More Buts on currency.......
We have all seen magic tricks performed with coins.
In which many of these have been defaced.
Subject: Re: Defacing US currency?
From: toff-ga on 25 Jun 2005 09:54 PDT
I fail to see much of a difference between taking, for example,
quarters out of currency because they've been soldered together to
make a jewelry box (I have seen such a thing) and taking quarters out
of currency to place in a collector's book.  I suppose it would be
easier to put the latter back into usage, although coins that have
been taken out of currency for their collectibility in fact may never
be used for their intended purpose again.  A quarter (or whatever)
might become worth more than its face value.

It would be interesting to know the legislative history and intent of
the sections of the US Code dealing with this matter.
Subject: Re: Defacing US currency?
From: moneybroker-ga on 23 Jul 2005 17:45 PDT
Let me throw another twist to your original question...  Aside from
drilling, or otherwise defacing US currency, can one use US currency
to advertise legally.  I have for some time used very small post-it
style stickers to advertise my business.  I usually place them on 20,
50 and 100 bills.  The stickers come off without damaging the bill, so
I am not defacing the bill.  It is not my intent to render the bill
unusable either.  To the contrary, I want the bill, with my sticker,
circulated as much as possible.  I have received many great business
leads from this method and would hate to learn that it's illegal.  Let
me know.

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