Every year, twenty three thousand cases get sent into the Mutilated Currency Division (MCD) of the US Treasury. The problem is usually very simple, someone has some physical cash that is damaged in some way. It could be either fire, water, chemicals, insects, animals, petrification from burying or whatever else. As long as the money is so badly damaged that it can no longer be used, you can send it in to the MCD where forensic experts will do their best to tease out how much is in there, and reimburse you that full amount. Of those 23,000 and counting cases sent in every year, the MCD reimburses around thirty to forty million dollars every year.
According to their current assistant manager, Eric Walsh, one of their craziest cases was one of a farmer whose wallet dropped in the field and was basically eaten by his cow. Since the MCD tells you to mail the money as is, in whatever condition it was damaged in, the farmer cut out the cow’s stomach (I imagine he sold or ate the meat), packaged said cow-belly and mailed it to the MCD. No issues, the MCD still waded through the presumable stink, found the wallet, pieced together how much money had been damaged and mailed a check to the farmer. The total? About $600. Pretty amazing, if you ask me.
To me what makes a country great is often found in the little things as much as in the big things. The point is, how much does a country care for it’s citizens? Here’s an entire government unit devoted to making sure anyone whose money is too damaged to be useful is made whole. I will tell you, it’s not like that in many other countries. If you’re dumb enough to collect damaged money, or worse damage it by your own actions, then you take the losses and that’s just the end of it. And in cases where the mutilated currencies are taken out of circulation, someone has to pay for it. For instance, in Nigeria it’s fairly common for banks to accept mutilated currency notes during transactions. However, they are required to send these mutilated currency notes in a box to the Central Bank, which charges them N12,000 (roughly $33) per box to sort these out and send them freshly minted notes. $33 per box adds up, so often times, banks will continue to recirculate damaged currencies for as long as they can hold up until they’re almost completely falling apart, and even then they are often held together with sticky tape until it’s pretty much unusable before it’s trashed.
America created the Mutilated Currencies Division by an Act of Congress back in 1866, less than 5 years after the country began to issue paper currencies. The idea is simple: when we say the paper currency is not just paper, but it is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, we stand by that shit. Anything damages it, send it to us and we’ll bring it back to you safe and sound. And for 152 years, they’ve done just that. As long as the officials at the MCD can tease out enough information to verify that the money is real, no matter how badly damaged it is, you will get it back.
One other story I’ve heard about the MCD was about how an old mid western town house had a legend about the previous owner burying his treasure in a box somewhere on the premises. Over the years since then, most people have searched, even broken parts of the concrete to see if it was hidden there but nothing was ever found. Eventually, most gave up and it passed into legend that no one actually believed. Sometime recently however, the latest owner was knocking down a 100 year old chicken coop to build some new stuff, and found a tin box containing some papers and a charred black brick that you could tell used to be money.
He sent it to his bank to verify and give him new notes, but they couldn’t handle it, but they told him to send it to the MCD. The good guys up there took a chisel to the black brick, teased it apart, microscopically checked out the currency and verified that it was really some money from hundred years ago. They electronically deposited the amount of the cash into the guy’s account, $3,300. It indeed was a treasure, considering that at the time it was buried around roughly 1915, $3,300 would be the equivalent of $60,000 today.
However, the MCD of course just does dollar in, dollar out. Still it’s pretty incredible that the government offers this level of customer service for this amount of time to the public, absolutely free of charge. Any damaged dollar note gets exchanged without question. And every year, the MCD exchanges more than it did at the last.
Now compare that with Nigeria where banks that send damaged notes to the Central Bank to be changed is charged roughly $33 per box. When you consider how many boxes they’ll have to send in if they were trying to eliminate every damaged note, you’ll understand why we continue to use our naira notes even as they fall apart, are held together by sticky tape, begin to crumble and become almost unrecognizable before they’re taken out of circulation.
5 years after paper currencies were available in America, they created a solution to maintain the integrity of their notes. In 2018, we are still not doing the same in Nigeria. Tells you a lot about the two countries, doesn’t it?
Sometimes it’s the big things, and some times, it’s really the little things.