21 Facts About our Nation’s Currency

As many of you know, I’m obsessed with money. I collect it, I talk about it, I use it in art, and of course I make as much of it as I possibly can ;)

So any time I come across a few interesting facts about our money, it takes complete willpower to keep it all to myself and NOT share it with you guys every second. (You’re welcome)

Today, however, I unleash it all! Like a big frustrated volcano finally able to erupt in ecstasy! Or….

I Present to You, 21 Money Facts That Will Blow Your Mind

  1. The Mint of Philadelphia was originally guarded by a watchdog (that cost $3.00).
  2. The most counterfeited bill in the country is $20. World-wide it’s the $100.
  3. Coins last 30 years on average, while paper money usually only lasts for 18 months.
  4. The U.S. dollar is the most widely used currency in international transactions.
  5. Coins have ridges to protect against counterfeiting. Back story:

    “To make a little extra money, people would shave the edges of the coins and collect the metal. If done well enough, the smaller coins would not be noticed by merchants and they in effect would get less than ten dollars in gold for a purchase. This gave the counterfeiter extra gold or silver to make into more coins. Today, the ridges remain as a form of “braille” for the seeing impaired.”

  6. It costs approximately 6.4 cents per note to produce U.S. currency.
  7. Dollar bills often carry traces of Salmonella and E.coli.
  8. Paul Revere was a silversmith and a contributor to our nation’s coinage.
  9. About 4,000 double folds (forward and backward) are required before a note will tear.
  10. Legend has it that Martha Washington donated the silverware from her table to make the nation’s first currency.
  11. The whole country makes money when the Mint makes money. Back story:

    Why? The answer is “seigniorage”—the difference between the cost of making a coin and its face value. (For example, it costs only a few cents to make a quarter, yet its face value is 25 cents.) This profit runs the Mint and puts extra funds into the country’s Treasury—funds then spent on education, health care, defense, and other services for the nation.

  12. “In God We Trust” was first used on coins during the Civil War.
  13. Horses, oxen, and men powered the Mint’s coin presses before 1816.
  14. Before the days of paper money, Americans traded animal skins, including deer and elk bucks, for goods and services (hence where the word “buck” came from to describe money)
  15. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produces 26 million notes a day, with a face value of approximately $907 million.
  16. An employee of the Mint once tried to steal a 10-pound brick of gold. Back story:

    In 1864, James Clarke, an employee of the Denver Mint, stole cash, certificates, and a 10-pound brick of gold. He tried to escape on horseback, but the horse ran away. After getting only a few miles out of Denver, Clarke found his loot too heavy to carry and threw the 10-pound gold brick away. Clarke was caught and ordered to leave the territory.

  17. The Philadelphia Mint is the world’s largest mint, covering over 5 acres of ground.
  18. The first woman to appear on U.S. coins wasn’t  American – it was Queen Isabella of Spain in 1893. First Lady Martha Washington was the first woman to appear on paper money in 1886.
  19. The largest bill ever created was the $100,000 gold certificate in 1934. (It’s worth a hell of a lot more than that, if you should be so lucky to own one (which would be illegal))
  20. The Smithsonian Institution was created by the donation of $508,316 in gold from scientist James Smithson – from England! Today it is the largest museum complex in the entire world (all free of charge to visit too! Egads!).
  21. George Washington refused to appear on a coin because kings often put themselves on coins. Interesting background on Mr. Washington:

    “Unlike many in positions of leadership, he was not motivated primarily by power… he left public service more than once to settle back into a quiet, unassuming life on his plantation”

“Facts” that sound awesome, but not sure I believe:

  • More Monopoly money is printed than REAL money.
  • More people have fantasies about money than sex. (What about both at the same time? ;))

Use this knowledge wisely, ladies and gentleman…

Sources: USMint.gov | Businessinsider.com | FederalReserveEducation.org

[Photo cred: Images_of_Money]

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  1. NZ Muse January 17, 2014 at 5:33 AM

    I can’t lie – your guys paper bills freak me out. And in six weeks I still couldn’t get my head around your coins :)

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 8:24 AM

      haha… our coins have been lame for 50+ years now. I miss the old school ones! (And by “miss” I mean, “from what I’ve seen” – I wasn’t even alive then :))

  2. jp @cashsnail January 17, 2014 at 5:47 AM

    If QE money was printed and not only sent to banks, Monopoly would not stand a chance :)

  3. Haskell January 17, 2014 at 7:25 AM

    What about Salmon P. Chase on the $10,000 bill?

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 8:25 AM

      Yeah, seems that dang 1st “fact” up there was incorrect…. I bet that was a Business Insider one – their stuff is starting to go down hill, ugh…

      I’ve now replaced that tidbit with a better gem :) And I know it’s true cuz it comes directly from the Mint’s site!

      “The Mint of Philadelphia was originally guarded by a watchdog that cost $3.00”

  4. Sheri January 17, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    “•More people have fantasies about money than sex. (What about both at the same time? ;))”
    That would be called prostitution *grin*

    I always envied the other countries’ colored paper money and coinage. I was happy to see it starting to happen in the U.S.

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 8:26 AM

      Haha… I meant more like having sex ON money, but yeah – that fits too ;)

  5. Jim January 17, 2014 at 7:36 AM

    Only 21 facts? C’mon you gotta go at least FIFTY if you want people to take you seriously. :)

    As for #7, isn’t there an urban myth (but not really) that all those bills have a little cocaine too?

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 8:27 AM

      Haha yup! But I figured since most people already know of that one I’d skip it and go the more, sicker, route of the E.Coli ;)

  6. Matt Becker January 17, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    The 6.4 cents to create a coin always kills me. Why do we have pennies and nickels again?

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 8:27 AM

      I know. I wonder how much longer we will? At least we make a KILLING off the other coins…

      1. Christine January 17, 2014 at 8:26 PM

        Interesting fact…I remember reading somewhere that there have been several propositions of getting rid of the penny but it is still the most highly circulated of all US coins.

    2. Brian January 17, 2014 at 10:38 AM

      That was 6.4 cents per note… meaning paper money

      it costs about 1.8 cents to make a penny and 10.4 cents to make a nickel which is why we may soon see a non-nickel nickel.

  7. Regarding Fact 1 January 17, 2014 at 7:42 AM

    Awesome post. 13 makes sense, but I had really never connected those dots before. However, regarding #1, what year was Hamilton sworn in? :)

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 8:29 AM

      I know I know, it was a wrong one :( Now been swapped out for a “real” fact this time! Haha… damn Business Insider…

  8. Broke Millennial January 17, 2014 at 7:46 AM

    #7 is why it makes me want to vom when someone puts money in their mouth. I always get a chuckle when a dollar bill has glitter on it and you think….”I know where that’s been…”

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 8:29 AM

      HAH! Exactly!

    2. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel January 17, 2014 at 4:05 PM

      EWWWWW who would ever put money in their mouth? That’s just nasty.

  9. Ryan January 17, 2014 at 8:16 AM

    Fact #1 is wrong. Alexander Hamilton is on the $10 bill and was not a President.

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 8:31 AM

      Yeah, y’all are good at catching that one – swapped it out with a different, more fun, one now…and this time from a reliable source – the mint!

  10. Dave @ The New York Budget January 17, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    I’m betting on J$ to be the second non-president to be featured on a bill!

  11. snarkfinance January 17, 2014 at 8:52 AM

    What do you think the percentage of people who fantasize about diving into a pit of money a la Scrooge McDuck are? Count me as one.

    George Washington may have been a slave owner and all around hard ass, but I couldn’t think of a better man to have first lead this country (and apparently his peers agreed).

    1. Grayson @ Debt Roundup January 17, 2014 at 12:05 PM

      I am also one that would jump into a pile of coinage. I know it would hurt like hell, but McDuck made it look so badass looking.

      1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 2:21 PM

        Count me in too! Been dreaming about that going on 13.5 years now. It’s going to hurt (literally), but it will be all worth it!

  12. a terrible husband... January 17, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    You know… #9 is one that I suspect has never been confirmed. It could very well be one of those “just make it up, nobody’s going to try it” facts. I’m certainly not going to either.

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 2:22 PM

      Really? That’s probably the easiest to confirm as you can probably try it right now and would take you, what, 20 mins? (Your wrists would probably hate you for it though!)

  13. Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions January 17, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    #7 — ICK! I always pay attention when I’m buying food and someone then uses the cash register. There’s a reason for wearing gloves when preparing food!

    What about the rumor that there is cocaine on most bills? Did you read anything about that in your money facts research?

    1. Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions January 17, 2014 at 10:13 AM

      Oops! Jim beat me to it. That’s what I get for posting without reading the comments … :/

  14. Bryan@FatWallet January 17, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    Our “paper” currency isn’t actually wood fiber paper. It’s made from linen and cotton, which is why it can take a few trips through the washing machine.

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 2:23 PM

      Yup! Perhaps a good idea for your guys’ blog next :)

  15. Becky @ RunFunDone January 17, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    These are fun facts. I would now like to go play trivial pursuit so that I can win with mt new knowledge!

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 2:23 PM


  16. Grayson @ Debt Roundup January 17, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    I am a fan of the old coins. I have some from way before I was born. I think making pennies and nickels is ridiculous, especially pennies. Don’t even get me started on how dirty money is.

  17. Charlie @ Our Journey To Zero Debt January 17, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    What I like about our bills is that it’s all the same size. When I go overseas to Europe or Asia, I hate how all the bills are different sizes. Also, it annoys me when I get 1 euro as a bill and 1 euro as a coin.

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 2:24 PM

      Isn’t that partially to help blind people though? I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere over the years… imagine trying to count OUR bills? #nightmare

  18. Done by Forty January 17, 2014 at 2:08 PM

    I love the story about the guy who stole a 10 pound gold brick and then decided it was too heavy, and threw it away. Seriously, dude? Gut it out: it is only ten pounds, and worth, like, your entire life salary.

    Fascinating read, J Money!

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 2:27 PM

      If I’m not mistaken, I believe the guy had a peg leg or something similar.. We took a tour of the Denver Mint at FINCON ’12, and I could have sworn they told this story to us. In their version though the guy had a major limp (due to said leg problem) and the employees didn’t question him because he was always hunched over and what not. So when he was struggling to carry it out, he looked normal.

      And then they said they hired him back later or something weird?? I could be butchering this.

  19. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel January 17, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    Speaking of money, today’s my last day at the bank and I’ve got a bunch of random foreign coins and a $1 silver certificate I can send your way. Not sure what any of it’s worth, but just shoot me an email! :)

    1. J. Money January 17, 2014 at 4:37 PM

      YES PLEASE!!!!

      The coins probably aren’t worth anything, but I do like sorting through them and collecting anyways :) The silver certificate is probably worth $2-$3 unless it’s a rarity (I’ll tell you if it is and we can split our millions, haha…)

      Emailed you – thanks so much!

  20. Brian @ Debt Discipline January 17, 2014 at 6:44 PM

    #7 makes sense, the amount of people that can handle a bill or coin over it life time. No fantasies of sex with money?

  21. Christine January 17, 2014 at 8:22 PM

    #3 is why I LOVE dollar coins! Also, since I’m a bank teller, I’m not AT ALL surprised with #7. Most of the time after counting money for a while my fingertips literally turn black from the dirt (gross!) so who knows what else is on there. I literally use the phrase “dirty money hands” several times a day. Great article!

    1. J. Money January 18, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      Haha… nice. Probably more fun getting dirty with dollars than elsewhere I suppose? :)