Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts muddied the water a bit yesterday in the Reliable Source column and perpetuated an old misunderstanding. They close their article about Edwina Rogers and her practice of wrapping small gifts with dollar bills by saying “While uncut currency is legal tender (you can cut around the bills), slicing them in half (as Rogers does in the clip) is technically considered defacement.” Well, sure, and so is writing in the margins of your paperback so you can get back to the saucy parts later. Unfortunately they’re hinting at the common belief that using those penny mushing machines and other “money art” constitutes committing a federal offense and might somehow get you in trouble.
This statute means that you may be violating the law if you change the appearance of the coin and fraudulently represent it to be other than the altered coin that it is. As a matter of policy, the U.S. Mint does not promote coloring, plating or altering U.S. coinage: however, there are no sanctions against such activity absent fraudulent intent.
So feel free to keep making those little folding paper dolls with your $100 bills, so long as you don’t try to spend them later.