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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dollar portraits

I was just testing myself this morning, realizing how poor my powers of observation were regarding whose portrait was on which dollar denomination.

I knew Washington was on the one dollar bill, Lincoln on the five, and Jackson on the twenty. But I actually drew a blank on Hamilton being on the ten. I guessed (correctly) that Grant was on the fifty and knew that Franklin was on the hundred.

But I had entirely forgotten that there was such a thing as a two dollar bill (Jefferson), and I couldn't name the face on any denominations beyond one hundred.

Here they are, in order:

$500: William McKinley
$1000: Grover Cleveland
$5000: James Madison
$10,000: Salmon P. Chase
$100,000: Woodrow Wilson

Salmon P. Chase, who lived form 1808 to 1873, served as Senator from Ohio, the 23rd Governor of Ohio, Treasury Secretary under Lincoln, and the Sixth Chief Justice of the United States. That's a pretty illustrious career.

Even more embarrassing than that I hadn't been able to name all the people was that I hadn't even known how distinguished Chase was. (I had just assumed he was a Treasury Secretary.)

You have to wonder how many $100,000 bills are in circulation, and what they're used for. It would seem awfully risky to have that much money wrapped up in one little piece of flammable paper. (What if it just happened to fall out of your pocket?) One would think that any transactions involving that kind of money would be done through checks, or electronic transfers.

I can't imagine walking into the local grocery store and saying, "I'll take a gallon of milk, four sticks of butter, and one of those packages of gum over there. Oh, by the way, you got change for a hundred thou?"

The only people I can see really finding a use for the $100,000 bill -- or even its poor cousin, the $10,000 bill -- are big time drug dealers.

This is what $200 million in smaller denominations looks like (picture courtesy of a busted Mexican drug kingpin):

Obviously, it's a bit much to lug around. Imagine how much more convenient it would be to get paid for your thousand kilos of uncut heroin with cash that would fit inside a briefcase. The only problem would be getting your money back into circulation. It might arouse suspicion.

Still, it's sort of cool to know such bills exist. I'm sure I'll never see one in my lifetime, and just as well. The only circumstances in which I would see one -- other than in, say, a museum -- would probably be scary ones.


Glen Filthie said...

Wbat's the largest amount of cash you have ever had on your person at one time, John? I dunno why but I find the question interesting.

I had $20,000.00 in cash that I put out as a down payment on my wife's new car back before Christmas.

A buddy of mine won this 'contest' - He paid off his house with $46,000.00 cash back in the early 70's. I can see a $10,000.00 bill actually being useful in some circumstances.

John Craig said...

Glen --
The most that I can ever remember having had on me is this past summer, I had 13k when I was in London (mostly for betting purposes).

The thing about a bill that large is, I would think people would want to have the local bank check it out to make sure it's not counterfeit, so in the end it would be even more trouble than arranging a bank transfer or paying by check. If someone handed you a $10,000 bill and said, "Okay, now we're square," wouldn't you want to take it to a bank to have them make sure it's real?

Anonymous said...

Haha! It would have to be a progressive on the $100k. Just getting ready for hyperinflation!

John Craig said...

Anon --
Good point. They should make a million dollar bill and put Obama's picture on it.

And, now that I think of it, they should make it counterfeit, sorta like the man himself.

Glen Filthie said...

It would depend, John.

Consider: go through your wallet. Can you remember where you got the ones and the fives and tens from? Maybe and maybe not...and if one turned out counterfeit - you would not be financially crippled.

But consider a $10,000.00 note. You would remember EXACTLY who gave it to you. You would remember EXACTLY who you gave it to, and under which circumstances. Bills like these don't change hands casually as smaller denominations do - which is why counterfeiters don't bother with them. You are right I suppose, I WOULD worry about counterfeiting all the same too - but realistically the profit of counterfeiting is in the smaller bills.

Up here in Canada our money is really getting weird. They've gotten rid of the penny. There is talk of $5.00 and $15.00 coins. Paper money now has plasticized holograms and metal foil patches. Counterfeiting our money is now probably beyond the reach of the shade tree criminal set up in his basement. It is a fascinating aspect of crime to watch. I suspect that in the future the criminals will spend far more time and effort on cashless technologies like debit and credit cards.

John Craig said...

Glen --
All true. I would hesitate before taking anything larger than a hundred. (I can't recall ever having seen anything larger than a hundred, to tell the truth.)

And you'r right, they say that counterfeiters specialize in 20's, 50's, and 100's. Anything less and it's not worth their time, and anything more would automatically arouse suspicion.

I think the switch of criminals to cashless technologies is already in full swing.