Project Background

This array of money graffiti is the result of more than 25 years of exploring the subject and represents the contributions of many people.

As a brand-new exhibit, its categories are still in the formative stage. (In fact, there are no categories just yet.)

If you have an interest in the subject, come back often and watch our progress. Feel free to make suggestions. And if you feel so inclined . . . please contribute! (Do not send the actual bills; just .jpgs.)

Please note that we in no way endorse or encourage defacing of currency, but in trying to analyze this social phenomenon we are always interested to see other specimens.

We reserve the right to reject any examples that in our judgment were created solely for the purpose of creating “graffiti money.”


Whys and Wherefores

The reasons and circumstances that give rise to graffiti money are undoubtedly as diverse as the bills themselves. Here are some real-life scenarios. Feel free to add your own!

At the Club:
“One evening I was invited to a dinner at popular men’s fraternal organization and during the course of the event the moderator told everyone, “take out a dollar bill and write your name on it.” The notes were collected and put into a kitty, from which one was drawn and announced as the winner.”

Sidewalks of New York:
“It was in the late 70’s, when I saw a large knot of people up ahead on a Manhattan sidewalk. As I got closer, I saw standing in the middle of this crowd Muhammad Ali, and people were handing him bills to autograph, which he did and reached over the crowd’s head to hand them back. If any of these still survives, it probably got handed down as a family heirloom.”

Incitements to Graffiti in Social Media:
In 2011, soon after joining Twitter, I began to notice numerous “tweets” that urged readers to mark up banknotes for various purposes, such as:

“Monsters grab your dollar bills and write Little Monster on them!
5 Aug Favorite Retweet Reply”

“Get out your markers and write this on your dollar bills. Really pay this message forward. #reality #truth http://fb.me/Gi6BuCHlUS
5 Aug Favorite Retweet Reply”


Money Graffiti in the Movies

At about 10:30 AM on November 15, 2010, on Comcast A&E (Channel 70), an episode of CSI Miami featured a bloodstained graffiti bill with the message “he’s going to kill me!” scrawled on the back and passed to a toll-booth collector.

On the same channel the previous evening, in a documentary about paranormal activity, the interviewee recalled losing then finding a diamond ring, then later in the evening going to the movies where the ticket booth lady handed him a bill with “RING” printed in giant black letters on the face.

In the 2004 movie, The Whole Ten Yards, a dollar bill inscribed with the account number to a Swiss bank account was torn in half and each piece given to one of two teenage brothers. When they reunited years later as adults they planned to use the bill to access their father’s $250,000,000 fortune.


Why write on money?

The subject of graffiti on money raises many curious questions.

What motivates people to write on money? Or companies to stamp symbols on their bills? Isn’t this illegal? (See law below.) Is it ever enforced? How and by whom?

Who writes on money? Why? Where and how? In the course of developing this site, we intend to explore all these questions and more.

If you have answers to any of the above or any other commentary on the subject, please share your feedback with us.

Notes on the Notes

Some general observations from the gallery:

* Our research indicates that the overwhelming majority of money graffiti is people’s first names (their own or others’?) — often on the left-hand side of the bill, between the seal and the portrait. Frequently the name is repeated to the right of the portrait. Why names, and why in those particular spots?

* Writing styles range from timid and apologetic to brash and boisterous, from inconspicuous to ostentatious. Some are written with fastidious, almost calligraphic penmanship while others are indecipherable scrawls.

* Writing instruments run the gamut from black magic markers, felt pens and multi-colored neon highlighters to pencils, red ballpoints and in some cases rubber stamps, both personal and institutional. Anything to make a point.

* Many bills contain the marking of a single number, sometimes circled, from the number 1 upwards.

* Also, since a picture is worth a thousand words some decorators of dollars draw upon a galaxy of graphics from very clever to downright crude.

Signs and Language
Can you shed any light on any markings shown here? For example, what do the letters rubber-stamped on the $100 bill displayed on Floor 1, Image 36 signify? Or, what does the Oriental writing on the $1 bill on Floor 20, Image 59 say? If you can enlighten us, please let us hear from you.

Watch Your Money!

Next time someone passes you a bank note, take a second look. They maybe passing you a note — literally!

The Letter of the Law

Title 18 of the United States Code expressly prohibits:

“Defacement of currency (generally defined as: Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other things 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 items(s) unfit to be reissued.)”

“What is not mutilated currency? Any badly soiled, dirty, defaced, disintegrated, limp, torn, or worn-out currency note that is clearly more than one-half of the original note, and does not require special examination to determine is value. These notes should be exchanged through your local bank.”

(Hopefully, in the case of graffiti money, not before you forward a .jpg to moneygraffiti.com!)

US Bureau of Engraving and Printing