InfoSight Spotlight: Currency with stamped image of Harriet Tubman appearing in circulation

As a political protest to the delay of the new Harriet Tubman $20 bill until 2028, people are using a 3-D stamp to superimpose a portrait of Tubman over Andrew Jackson’s portrait. These bills are appearing in circulation and are even being presented to credit unions.  The 3-D stamps are available for purchase online at ETSY, or plans can be downloaded for printing out the stamp using a 3-D printer.

In 2016, then U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had announced plans to add Tubman to the front of the $20 bill and move Jackson to the back and had instructed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to expedite the redesign. The new bill was expected to enter circulation sometime after 2020.

Is it illegal for someone to put a stamp on currency?

According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing there are a couple of considerations.

Under section 475 of the U.S. Criminal Code, “whoever designs, engraves, prints, makes, or executes, or utters, issues, distributes, circulates, or uses any business or professional card, notice, placard, circular, handbill, or advertisement in the likeness or similitude of any obligation or security of the United States issued under or authorized by any Act of Congress or writes, prints, or otherwise impresses upon or attaches to any such instrument, obligation, or security, or any coin of the United States, any business or professional card, notice, or advertisement, or any notice or advertisement whatever, shall be fined under this title.”

Defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. Under this provision, currency defacement is generally defined as follows: Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

The individuals who are stamping the $20 bills are not advertising any business, and their intent is for the bills to remain in circulation. This means it would not fall under the intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued and would not be considered defacement of currency.  Stamping campaigns as a political statement have been around for years as a way to send messages about issues that are important to those behind the campaigns.

What has the Federal Reserve Board and Secret Service said about these stamped bills?

Both the local offices of the Federal Reserve and Secret Service have agreed that the bills are not counterfeit, mutilated, or defaced.

What should we do if we receive one of these stamped bills?

Credit unions may continue accepting these bills from their members. The Federal Reserve suggests including the bills in your regular deposit and placing them at the top of the strap instead of reissuing them back to other members, as it isn’t clear whether merchants would accept them.  Credit unions will want to train staff about the campaign and potentially having a $20 with the stamped image of Harriet Tubman being presented to the credit union.

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