Collector explores little known facts about American money | St. Louis Public Radio

Collector explores little known facts about American money

Jun 8, 2015

Do you know whose portrait appears on the $10,000 bill? Or, how about the $100,000 bill?

Although they’re no longer produced by the Federal Reserve, President Woodrow Wilson’s face is on the $100,000 bill and it was only circulated internally within the federal government.

Meanwhile, Salmon P. Chase appears on the $10,000 bill. Chase was in the right place at the right time as U.S. paper money – or “greenbacks” – was first issued in 1861 and he was President Abraham Lincoln’s first treasury secretary during that time. Chase was also a senator and governor from Ohio and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Monday, collector Harley Spiller, joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh to discuss his book “Keep the Change: A Collector’s Tales of Lucky Pennies, Counterfeit C-Notes, and other Curious Currency.” The book examines and provides interesting insight and historical context about a variety of currencies, including why greenbacks are green and what happens to worn-out bills.

Spiller developed a love for unique currency at age 5 when his father gave him a sack of pennies and a Whitman coin folder. Since then, he has collected an extensive amount of unusual financial artifacts as well as studied historical details about Unites States currency.

Here are some interesting facts Spiller shared about money:

  • American bills have always been green although newer bills are becoming more colorful.
  • Pennies were once made of 100% copper. Now, the copper coating on the penny is only 1/2000 of an inch thin.
  • An engraving of an allegorical feather-bonneted Indian was the portrait on the U.S. penny until President Lincoln took over in 1909. Several coin collecting websites have likened the allegorical image to that of a representation of Lady Liberty.
  • Some nations insure their money with $100 U.S. bills.
  • According to the Federal Reserve, U.S. dollars are made of 75% cotton, and 25% linen. However, Spiller has found that the linen used in American money is from flax… as in material made from flax seeds.
  • Single dollar bills have a durability of about six years. Larger bill can last for as long as 15 years since they are less handled.
  • The design for American money is drawn by hand before printing.
  • In the 1950s the wealthy would show off by lighting their cigars with $100 bills.
  • There is a law that says you can’t burn money as a way to destroy the economy but you can burn your own money as a display of social activism.

View the slideshow above to see samples of Spiller’s coin collection.

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.