Currency News

Even if you aren't traveling, your money is


McClatchy Newspapers

Posted: January 30, 2011

You may not be going anywhere. But the contents of your wallet are.

North Carolina resident Kathy Williamson stopped at a Harry & David store to buy candy while in Tennessee. The change she received from the clerk was correct, but she noticed something odd about one of the singles given her. Someone had used a red felt-tip to circle the bill's serial number and to write "Currency tracking study" on the dollar's left edge. And to the left of the first president's head, there was a blue stamp mark that read, "Track me atwww..wheresgeorge.com". 
After she returned home, she visited that website and learned the dollar had been registered in eastern Tennessee five days and 22 hours before and now had gone 122 miles -- at 28 miles per day. 
Welcome to Where's George -- a project that seems part "Where's Waldo?" (paper-based hunting activity), part "Flat Stanley" (tracking where a particular object is physically moving) and is fully wired. People enter the serial numbers of a bill, mark the currency and wait to see whether the paper money turns up elsewhere: Someone else can go to the site, punch in the serial number, and learn where it has been. 

At the site's home page, live blurbs pop up from around America that note things like: 

Huntsville, AL 

1st hit: Got this bill as part of a tip for delivering pizzas. Good condition. 

The site's "George's Top 10" page lists some remarkable migrations of money, ranging from singles to $100 bills: 

A dollar bill entered on Wheresgeorge.com in Dayton, Ohio, in 2002 has logged 15 "hits" over 4,191 miles -- most recently in 2005 in Rudyard, Mich., after turning up in places from Utah to Florida. 


A $100 bill migrated from Downey in Southern California to Blackburn, England, and was last spotted back in California, in Weaverville -- 538 miles from where it started out. 


A $5 bill launched from Jefferson, Md., turned up a year and 171 days later in Aurora, Colo., after stops in Jamestown, N.C., Florida, Texas and Ontario. 

It's likely that some bills registered with the site made their way to Gottingen, Germany, home of the illustrious Max-Planck Institute: In 2006, Dirk Brockmann, an American theoretical physicist working there, used Wheresgeorge.com in "The Scaling Laws of Human Travel" -- an acclaimed study that used patterns of money migration as a tool to create models for the spread of epidemics. 

"It wasn't about germs on the bills themselves," says Hank Eskin. "Brockmann used dollar bills as a proxy for how people move around. Paper money travels with people, so it's a good substitute for how people travel and how diseases spread as a result of that." 

Eskin, 46, is the Boston-based Internet consultant who started Wheresgeorge.com a dozen years ago to track currency. "I don't collect it," he said in a phone interview. "It's more about the technology." 

His site has become more than that to casual and die-hard fans (called "Georgers") who have logged more than 200 million bills into the Wheresgeorge.com database. "Something like 60,000 bills are entered every day," Eskin says. 

This is despite the lengthy user guidelines and "frequently asked questions" text at Wheresgeorge.com. Some verbiage stems from Eskin's desire to track where money naturally flows. He doesn't want people to mail or tote money to exotic locales just to achieve "George's Top 10" status. 

Other fine print says the site does not encourage the defacement of money: The Secret Service paid Eskin a visit in 2000. "I was also selling rubber Wheresgeorge.com stamps, and they said I basically can't do that. The law says you can't advertise on currency, and that's what they were concerned about. I haven't heard from them since." 

Making and using your own little rubber stamp for this is OK, by the way: That's considered marking bills, not defacing them.

HOW TO TRACK BILLS

1. Go to www.wheresgeorge.com and fill out the registration form (it's free). 
2. To check the money in your billfold: Click the "I found a Where's George Bill" box (even if you're not sure if it's entered). Type the serial number and your ZIP code. 
3. To launch a bill: Click the "I want to enter and track ..." box. Fill out the "Enter a bill" form. If you don't have a stamp, just write "www.wheresgeorge.com" in ink in the margin of the bill.



The Gold Standard in Malaysia




The New American Magazine

August 17, 2010

Americans are rightly troubled by much in modern Islam. There is one area, however, in which America might find laudable approaches from Muslims. The government of Kelantan, a state within the nation of Malaysia, has introduced a new monetary system that is based upon standardized weights of gold and silver coins. These dinar and dirham coins were once common within the old Ottoman Empire, just as species — gold and silver money — was once common within most of the civilized world.

Paper money is relatively new in human history. When it was first introduced, paper money represented a solemn promise to be redeemed in a specific weight of precious metal, typically gold. The very term “dollar” represents a weight of gold, rather than some abstract value of American currency. During much of our nation’s history, banks issued bills as well, and debts were often paid in the notes of reputable banks that were considered at least as reliable as the federal government.

The progressive disconnection of currency from any objective standard, predictably, has led to abuse by national governments. Weimar Germany is just one example of how hyper-inflation, produced by a national government wishing to magically create wealth by creating more and more paper money, led to horrible internal economic collapse. The “stimulus” package of the Obama Administration is another example of how manufactured national debt and the frantic churning of printing presses leads, inevitably, to a suspicion that a national government is abusing the public trust.

Even coins, like those soon to be used in Malaysia, have been subject to abuse throughout history. Since the days of the Roman Empire, at least, gold and silver coins have been “clipped” — a portion of the outer rim of the coin was removed so that the objective value of the precious metal was reduced, but the apparent value of a particular type of coin remained unchanged. Governments seem to have an almost-irresistible yen to cheat their subjects by abusing a monopoly over money or the trust that people place in government-issued money.

Muslim officials in Malaysia have proposed the need for gold coins as a way of protecting the people against inflation.

They note that the value of gold vis-à-vis the dollar has increased five hundred percent in the last decade. The Muslim leaders of Kelatan are conscious of the potential political attractiveness of their move, and they are introducing gold coins as a form of government money on a small scale. However, if the gold allows some Malaysian to weather the almost-inevitable economic storms that should descend upon the world in the near future, then it is likely that other nations — maybe the United States as well — will look closer at the inherent power of stable, fixed values for money.


How to Cash In on Rare Coins



The 1910 Yunnan Spring Dollar

The Wall Street Journal

August 17, 2010


George Lim began his coin and banknote collection 30 years ago with a single note, the first 10,000 Singapore dollar bill he received. "As soon as I made that amount, I saved it to remember it," says Mr. Lim, a Singaporean real-estate developer, whose collection today includes over 100 rare coins and banknotes.
Mr. Lim plans to auction 68 coins and notes from his collection in Hong Kong on Aug. 22. He hopes to cash in on growing interest in collectibles from mainland Chinese buyers who've already pushed up the price of rare stamps, wines and art in recent months.
The lots in the Hong Kong auction will focus on Southeast Asian and Chinese coins and banknotes. One item of note is a rare Yunnan Spring dollar dated 1910 with an unusual spelling mistake embossed on the coin. Mr. Lim spoke with Angie Wong in Hong Kong about collecting etiquette and how to safeguard yourself from picking up a fake. The following interview has been edited.

WSJ: What do you look for when starting a collection?
Mr. Lim: Rarity and quality. Quality is basically the condition of the coin, who commissioned the coin and when it was produced. But if the coin is rare, then the wear and tear isn't as important, especially if only one or two survives.
WSJ: Do you think it is good to hoard a collection or sell it?
Mr. Lim: This is only a hobby. There are collectors who keep all the good stuff and leave nothing for others to collect. I think if you are collecting, you must release something from time to time [so other collectors can enjoy them]. I wanted to collect China silver coins, but all the top China silver coins are going into one person's hands. So I had to go for Chinese gold coins instead.
WSJ: How do you know when to sell?
Mr. Lim: Let the market decide the price. Watch the auctions to see what is selling. Also know that auctions goes up and down with the economy.
WSJ: What tips do you have for someone who wants to start collecting?
Mr. Lim: Newcomers, especially those interested in Chinese coin collecting, need a base knowledge. Read lots of books on the topic. Get to know what each coin is about, and the story behind it. Talk to dealers as well.
WSJ: What about forgeries?
Mr. Lim: It is very common for forgeries in China, especially if the coin is worth a lot. The best thing to do is safeguarding yourself by buying coins approved by a recognized third party grading service.



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