Art From Money

Macerated-Note Sculptures

These busts of American Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are made from notes. The notes were macerated, that is, soaked in water to break them down and then converted into pulp. The remaining material was then transformed into sculpture, similar to paper-mache artwork. Fragments of the designs of national notes are visible on Lincoln’s neck.

Abraham Lincoln Macerated Note Sculpture, United States, 19th–20th Century

Donated by Abraham Goldstein

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George Washington Macerated Note Sculpture, United States, 19th–20th Century

Donated by the Stack family

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Paper Money Origami

U.S. paper money is rectangular in shape and two-dimensional. Origami artist Ron Rotter transformed these U.S. banknotes into three-dimensional designs, including a fish, a heart, a dinosaur, an elephant, and a shirt and tie. This interlocking geometric figure is made up of thirty individual one-dollar bills and took Rotter two and a half hours to make. 

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Sketching Satire

10 Cent Note, United States, 1874

Donated by H. K. Crofoot 

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Portraits on paper notes are easy targets for satire. These examples of fractional currency, paper notes worth less than one dollar, feature the portrait of William M. Meredith, secretary of the U.S. Treasury from 1849 to 1850. With ink pen, Meredith has been transformed into less dignified figures, including a pirate and a musician.

Modified 10 Cent Note, United States, about 1874

Donated by The Chase Manhattan Bank

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Modified 10 Cent Note, United States, about 1874

Donated by The Chase Manhattan Bank

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Modified Coins

The individuals depicted on American coins are carefully selected, and their portraits are designed under the supervision of U.S. Mint officials. Once these coins enter circulation, however, they can be altered to feature alternative designs. United States nickels have often been targeted for modification due to their size and the malleability of their metal. The artfully modified coins are often referred to as hobo nickels because they are inexpensive and portable.

Modified Coin, United States, 20th Century

Donated by Jay L. DeBoer

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Elongated Coins

Coins can be stretched and imprinted with designs to make souvenirs or tokens. The first elongated coins are thought to have been made at the Columbian Exposition, also called the World’s Fair of 1893. By 1933, visitors to the World’s Fair in Chicago could make elongated coins to commemorate their visits to various venues, such as the Planetarium or the Streets of Paris. Elongated coins are still a popular souvenir today.

Elongated Coin, United States, 1893

Donated by Lonnie Mimms

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Elongated Coin, United States, 1933

Donated by Edith R. Meggers

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Love Tokens

These coins are called love tokens because their official markings have been replaced with personal messages. Some have artistically arranged initials and others depict objects of personal significance, as in this 1876 U.S. quarter engraved with an image of the Bible. Because love tokens are engraved by hand, they are unique. They may be used as lucky charms, jewelry, or commemorative gifts.

Love Token, United States, 19th Century

Donated by Mendel L. Peterson

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Love Token Brooch, United States, about 1880s

Donated by Mendel L. Peterson

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Love Token, United States, 19th Century 

Jewelry Made from Coins

Modified Coin Earrings, Mexico, 20th Century

Donated by U.S. Bureau of Customs

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Gold and silver have been used for both coinage and jewelry for more than 2,500 years. Coins intended for circulation as money have also been paired with precious gemstones and other metals to make jewelry, such as these bracelets and earrings. Incorporating coins into jewelry may be used to signify monetary wealth.

Modified Coin Bracelet, United States, 20th Century

Donated by R. S. Wilson

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