My Recent Buy: Macerated Currency

“My Recent Buy” will be a regular feature in The Insider. What did you buy recently that brings a smile to your face? Share the object and your story with our readers. Send the story of your buy and two to four images to Your recent buy might appear in a future issue. This week we bring you a recent buy made by our very own expert, Harry Rinker.

Recently, I acquired a macerated currency bust of Lincoln to add to my cabinet of curiosities.  The bust is 2 7/8” high and 2” wide at its maximum width.

What happens to currency when it is no longer in circulation?  Most individuals do not notice that the currency in their purses or wallets usually does not date before 2000.  As part of its control of the money supply, the Federal Reserve destroys older currency.  In 2010, 2.6 billion $1 bills were destroyed.

The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, under direction from the Federal Reserve, destroys mutilated currency and bills taken out of circulation and replaced with “fresh” money.  Currency is shredded and sent to waste energy facilities where it is burned.  The average life of a $1 bill is 3.7 years and the life of a $5 and $10 bill is 3.4 years.

A bale of macerated currency sold for $21 in 2016.

The Federal Reserve also destroys currency.  When the Federal Reserve destroys currency, the vast majority is shredded and sent to landfills.  The balance is packaged and sold as souvenirs to participants of Federal Reserve tours.  Obviously, there is not concern that someone will buy a pack of shredded currency and put the pieces together to create a shredded bill. 

Paper currency became popular with the general public just prior to the Civil War.  In 1862, Congress authorized the Treasury Department to create a method for destroying old paper currency.  Between 1873 and 1942, the Federal Reserve disposed of old currency by soaking it until it turned into pulp.

Individuals charged with disposing of the pulp and a few entrepreneurs noticed the pulp had the consistency of papier-mâché.   When placed into molds and dried, the pulp could be turned into figural and other souvenirs.  A new industry was born.

This replica of The United States Capitol Building, made of macerated currency, sold for $23 in January 2016.

It is necessary to go off on a tangent to set a second stage for my most recent buy.  From the moment I learned about cabinets of curiosities (also known as Kunstskammer or Wunderkammer in German and Cabinets of Wonder), I have been fascinated by them and their history.  Although the concept existed much earlier, it gained popularity in the sixteenth century when clergy, private individuals, scholars, universities, and others created rooms housing objects from antiquities, archaeology, ethnography, geology, natural history, painting, religious relics, and more.  The resulting Kunstkammer was a microcosm or theater of the world.  Many of the objects resulted from discoveries of “new things” made during the Age of Exploration.  Those who could not fill a room resorted to a cabinet.

Someone sold their glass and metal medical cabinet of curiosities, “contents not included,” for over $6000 in 2012.

The cabinet of curiosity contained objects of wonder.  There was no central theme.  The object could be a mineral specimen or a bird skin.  The order was random.  The selection highly personal.

As readers are aware, I collect “neat” things.   A neat thing is an object which evokes a “that’s neat” comment from the owner and visitor.  There is no mystery associated with the object.  It is easily identified for what it is.  The concept of neat arises from its shape and pattern.  For example, a table top lamp made from palm leaf fronds was part of my “neat” collection.

Because the objects that comprise my cabinet of curiosities are personal, I have written sparingly about it.  Neat and curious are too different concepts.  Curious is a trigger for wonder.  Wonder ranges from a desire to learn more about the object to re-experiencing the joy associated with its acquisition.  A curious object is one whose allure remains even after any mystery associated with it is removed.

I acquired my bust through Joe Levine’s Presidential Coin & Auction Company based in Clifton, Virginia.  I paid $77.50, which included shipping.

Recently, I acquired a macerated currency bust of Lincoln to add to my cabinet of curiosities.  The bust is 2 7/8” high and 2” wide at its maximum width.  I acquired it through Joe Levine’s Presidential Coin & Auction Company based in Clifton, Virginia.  I paid $77.50, which included shipping.  The bust was in good condition with the nose and other facial features intact and well defined.  The period packaging was missing as was the usual label that read: “Made of U.S. National Greenbacks redeemed and macerated at the U.S. Treasury, estimated $5,000.”  The latter claim is a definite exaggeration.

This set of macerated currency souvenirs sold for over $200 in May 2014.

I have no intention of starting a macerated currency collection, even though there a dozens of examples available.  Do a “Macerated Currency” search in WorthPoint’s Worthopedia.  Since the beginning of 2018, the Worthopedia has recorded the sale of a bust of President Rutherford, a cat, a hat, a Lincoln bust on a card, a money souvenir with a relief of George Washington, a money souvenir with a relief of the US Capitol, a pitcher, a postcard, a shoe with a cat inside, and a top hat.  This is a small sampling of what is available.  Washington, D.C. souvenirs include the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol, the Washington Monument (with and without the thermometer), and the White House.

            [Author’s Aside:  The sell through prices in WorthPoint’s Worthopedia do not reflect the asking prices of many eBay sellers.  Macerated currency souvenirs are common rather than scarce.  EBay sellers who suggest they are “rare” or “scarce” need to do their homework.  Patience and comparison shopping are the keys to finding this material at affordable prices.]

An object that fascinates me on multiple fronts is a great buy.  The Lincoln macerated currency bust served as reminder as to how popular memorabilia associated with Washington and Lincoln has faded from the scene as millennials and the entitled generations are no longer taught to revere these presidents.  In the 1950s, February was a great month.  Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays were school holidays.  Their birthdays have now been combined into President’s Day, a day on which no president was born but which Congress has decided all presidents were born.  In my early grade school education, large bust etchings of Washington and Lincoln stared down at me from behind the teacher’s desk.

The Lincoln macerated currency bust was a welcome addition to my cabinet of curiosities.  It has been awhile since a new acquisition joined its ranks.  Its arrival serves as a reminder to pay more attention to building this collection.  Curiosity is something that only death should end.

Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site.  You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.  “Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

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