Currency as Art

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The December 8 “Best of the Web Today” column by James Taranto (Wall Street Journal) touches on the subject of currency as art. This struck a chord with me. For a number of years I taught Money and Banking. I tried to show my students a movie titled “Secrets of Making Money.” It was originally broadcast on October 22,1996 as part of the PBS Nova series. In the opening scene a reformed counterfeiter talks about how he did it using traditional camera and film techniques. The show then proceeds to discuss the design of the (then) new $100 bill, with a focus on its security features. (The Nova website has links to sites that include much of this information.)

Toward the end there is a segment on J.S.G. Boggs, an artist who creates his own currency. He does not sell this currency. The only way it can be acquired is via a transaction. Thus, a $100 “Boggs note” will have to be used to buy goods or services. According to Wikipedia,

If an art collector wants a Boggs note, he must track it down himself. Boggs will tell a collector where he spent the note, but he does not sell them directly.

Here’s an example of Mr. Boggs’s work:

J.S.G. Boggs's $100 bill features Harriet Tubman

J.S.G. Boggs’s $100 bill features Harriet Tubman

I’ve posted the clip that talks about (and to) Boggs on Youtube. But you don’t need to leave this site because it’s embedded here.

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2 Replies to “Currency as Art”

  1. smartalek

    The obvious question becomes:
    what does the artist do to stay on the right side of the.counterfeit laws, which i gather have little sense of humor on the subject?
    if forced to guess, I’d imagine that he makes it very clear each time he wants to “spend” one that he’s proposing to barter a piece of art (which just happens to have a passing resemblance to US currency) for.whatever he wishes to purchase?

  2. secureadmin Post author

    Exactly. The segment of “Secrets of Making Money” that covers Boggs points out that he never claims his “money” is actual U.S. currency — or any other country, for that matter. See Mr. Boggs appears to have fallen into hard times:×7282 (but that article is 7 years old). More info at A different take from the currency collectors community is at