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J.S.G. Boggs challenged perceptions of money

Shown below is a work by money artist J.S.G. Boggs. He died recently, at age 62.


In the 1990s, I wrote extensively about Boggs, having initially found reference to an upcoming exhibit of his work in Tampa, Fla. I called him and he related how he began drawing and spending his own “Boggs bills” for everything from fine dinners to a new motorcycle.

Boggs’ spending, however, caught the attention of the authorities of several countries. In England, he was arrested and put on trial at the famed Old Bailey for counterfeiting. Similarly, he was arrested and tried in Australia. He was found not guilty in both instances.

The note above was from his “Project Pittburgh”—a plan to spend $1 million in Boggs bills. The Secret Service raided his office at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and his apartment. They confiscating everything with images of paper money on it, including novelty undershorts.

Though a judge once argued that a reasonable person could be fooled by a Boggs bill, I find that hard to believe. They were most often one sided. They had nonsensical inscriptions, or an incorrect image. The bill above has the U.S. Supreme Court on it. This building appears on no U.S. notes. The $10 Federal Reserve Note has the U.S. Treasury building. His “FUN Back” notes were orange in color.

Plus, Boggs didn’t try to spend his bills as money. Instead, he offered them as art. If he tendered one at a restaurant, he would tell his server that it was his artwork and he wanted to use it to pay for the meal. If the server accepted, he wanted change and a receipt.

The change and receipt were sold by Boggs to a collector, along with information on where he spent the bill. If the collector was able to purchase the note from the server, he or she now had a complete transaction. These were once trading for good money.

Boggs’ work included not only the spendable-size notes but also wall-size depictions that are now part of major collections such as the Smithsonian.

Boggs was certainly a showman, but he was also a talented artist. In exploring the beauty and intricacy of paper money and what it means, he made us all think. I will miss him.

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine. >> Subscribe today.

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