Mutilated Money – One Man’s Passion

IMG_2080Tattered, torn bills and rusting coins may not seem like something you’d want to spend a lot of time with, but Harley J. Spiller does, and he’s written a book sharing his passion for them, showing us the beauty in items we might discard without a second thought. Spiller is not only an educator at the Museum of American Finance , he’s also the deputy director of avant-garde art space Franklin Furnace.   In Keep theChange:  A Collector’s Tales of Lucky Pennies, Counterfeit C-Notes, and Other Curious Currencies, he delivers a lively account of not only how he came to hold these objects in such esteem, but also delves into topics such as how US Dollars are made (using Swiss presses and Crane’s “paper”), how it’s destroyed (officially, by the US government), and, most interestingly for me, how artists have used currency in their works – from William Michael Harnett’s 1877 recreation of a $5 bill to contemporary artist J.S.G. Boggs’ freehand illustrations of money.

In one chapter, Spiller provides us with slang terms that have been used to describe money – I was familiar with many, such as Benjamin, cabbage and smacker, but was completely stumped about a number of others, like frogskins and rhino. 

The book contains a number of fascinating factoids: “it takes four thousand double folds (forwards and backwards) before a banknote begins to tear”; or that banknotes created by Benjamin Franklin, in addition to”images of blackberry, willow and other leaves… bore the frightful inscription “‘To Counterfeit is DEATH’”; or that what we call paper money is really made from cotton and flax…

This delightful book is sure to answer many questions and pique your curiosity further.  You can listen to Spiller talk about his book in a video on the Museum of American Finance’s website.  

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