The colorfully named Mutilated Currency Division at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is a small office of crack forensics that spend their days poring over all manner of defaced dollars. Provided for free as a public service, the Mutilated Currency employees labor to identify bits and fragments of identifiable denominations that can be redeemed at face value.
Established by Congress in 1866—less than five years after the government started issuing paper money—the Mutilated Currency Division handles about 30,000 cases a year, returning currency valued at over $30 million. As long as more than half of the note remains, or the Treasury can be satisfied that the missing portions have been destroyed, the Mutilated Currency Division will redeem the amount of money that has been damaged by fire, water, chemicals, and acts of god.
For understandable reasons, the caseload (and wait time) tends to spike around natural disasters. But there are the rare cases with more bizarre origins. Legend has it among BEP tour guides that sometime during the 1970s, a farmer mailed in a rotting cow stomach, desperate for assistance. The man had lost his wallet in the field, and convinced it was eaten by the unfortunate cow, he had promptly slaughtered the beast. The farmer’s hunch proved correct and BEP cut him a check for $600.
The forensic examiners can identify a fleck of printing, and they use advanced scientific methods to determine how much currency was mutilated. Cases usually take between 6 and 36 months, and when payment has been made, the mutilated currency is held securely for 45 days until it is incinerated in a boiler that helps heat and cool the building. The mutilated currency division only handles paper money, but the U.S. Mint has a similar service for melted coins.
Know Before You Go
Send your mutilated currency to: Bureau of Engraving & Printing MCD/OFM, Room 344A 14th and C Streets SW Washington, DC 20228