Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What Silicon Valley legend creates "custom" versions of US currency that are totally legal to spend?

Counterfeit $10 - it looks real!Image by ericskiff via Flickr
On July 14, 1969, The United States Federal reserve removed from circulation any denomination of US currency larger than the $100 bill. While the $500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 and $100,000 bills are still valid currency, they are rarely spent, as any such bill that makes it into the Federal Reserve system will be retired -- and these rare bills have collectible value well above their denomination.

Still, some idiots just can't resist counterfeiting large and/or fictional denominations of US money, even though they're almost invariably caught trying to pass these bills off. What's even more shocking are the imbeciles that try to pass these fake notes off at Las Vegas casinos -- perhaps the single most counterfeit-aware group of businesses on the planet.

Thus it's apropos that Vegas gave the most trouble to a legendary Silicon Valley businessman who creates unusual -- but perfectly legal -- "custom" versions of US currency.

What Silicon Valley legend creates "custom" versions of US currency that are totally legal to spend?

For those that know anything about him, it should come as little surprise that eccentric Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak is the quasi-prankster in question.

Wozniak makes a habit of buying uncut sheets of US $2 bills directly from the US Treasury. (Anyone can do this, and the sheets are available from many coin collecting shops, but buying US currency in uncut sheets costs more than the bills' total face value.) He then ships the sheets to a private printing shop, which binds them into perforated coupon book-like pads of tear-off $2 bills.

Wozniak enjoys the private joke of people believing he's handing them counterfeit bills when he offers them his tear-off $2 notes. The custom-bound bills are perfectly legal tender as the gum-binding and perforation process don't alter any of the identifying marks on the notes. It's simply that most people don't have the time, resources, or sense of humor to pay extra to custom-bind their petty cash.

Wozniak particularly likes to use his custom $2 bills to tip waitresses. This practice got him into trouble a few years back at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas, an incident which Wozniak recounts on his blog. Woz didn't end up in jail, but his private joke left him with some awkward explaining to do, and it earned him yet another entry in the annals of the truly trivial.