Tennessee Williams on a three-dollar bill
May 8, 2014 7:59 AM   Subscribe

GetRichQuickFilter: Where can I make my own paper money?

Here in Key West, we are widely-known for eccentricity. Recently, some city leaders asked me to look into producing our own local currency.

After doing some googling, I learned we can't make coins but we can print our own dollars. Great. Next question, how do we go about doing that?

Where can we make real money that would 1) not be easily counterfeited, and 2) last better/longer than ordinary paper?
posted by Mike Mongo to Media & Arts (12 answers total)
I don't know the answer to your question myself, but you may want to contact the folks that run the Ithaca Hours currency system.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:02 AM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also explore Berkshares.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:13 AM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

You also might want to ask the folks that run BerkShares.
posted by zer0render at 8:13 AM on May 8, 2014

I think there are just one or two companies that produce most banknotes (most countries don't print their own). A cursory google suggests De La Rue and Giesecke & Devrient are two of the major printers, but I could be wrong about that.

Real banknotes might be more expensive and more involved than what you're after, of course.
posted by ryanrs at 8:37 AM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Production of the physical notes is probably the least of your problems. You need to basically come up with an entire monetary policy, not to mention sorting the legal compliance hoops you'll need to jump through to avoid the IRS, Federal Reserve, and FDIC coming down on you like a ton of bricks.

Check out The Schumacher Center for New Economics, one of the academic organizations behind the BerkShares project. They've got some great-looking links about local currencies, including links to companies which actually help launch local currencies.

You'll also need to hire a law firm to help you with this. Like, absolutely you'll need one. We're talking about interacting with the can of worms that is federal currency regulation. There are more ways to screw this up--some of which can send you to jail--than you can shake a stick at. You'll need to work through all of the legalities before launching a local currency. Defending yourself from federal investigation will cost you far more than it would have to just do it right from the outset.
posted by valkyryn at 8:52 AM on May 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The founder of Ithaca Hours recently wrote a book (warning: Geocities-era design) that looks to include information about printing and dealing with counterfeiting.

I'm in Ithaca and have occasionally been in possession of an Hour, and have always figured that the thing preventing from being counterfeited is their minimal transferrable value. Because of the number of businesses that accept them, their value is comparable to a gift certificate, which for small businesses is often xeroxed on card stock or paper. They've got a serial number, and it's possible that the paper is special, but it just feels like ordinary good paper and ordinary good printing.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:53 AM on May 8, 2014

I would suggest that rather attempting to make something that looks like a counterfeit banknote, you make something that is clearly play money, similar to Monopoly money.
posted by dfriedman at 9:07 AM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Using basic high quality printing technology, you cannot make something that can't be duplicated by basic high quality printing technology.

What you'd have to do is give each bill a unique code, unique enough that no one can figure out from one bill what the codes on the other bills would be. And then, if you have a computer registry of who owns the bills, you can arrange, using cryptography, for the transfer of these bills to new owners.

And then could get rid of the physical bills, keep the codes, and you would have BitCoin.
posted by musofire at 9:37 AM on May 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Before you do anything else, first stop is a lawyer to find out about relevant federal laws.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:54 AM on May 8, 2014

Detroit has done this too. Here is a list of some other community currencies. If you make something that cannot be confused with a US dollar, the feds will not bother you. A $3 with Tennessee Williams, and a $9 with Papa Hemingway, would be fine. The problem of other people counterfeiting your currency remains. The Detroit currency is on special paper and uses special inks, and the extra cost is borne by the issuer.
posted by ubiquity at 10:21 AM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you make something that cannot be confused with a US dollar, the feds will not bother you.

Well. . . the Secret Service won't anyway. They're the ones charged with investigating counterfeiting, oddly enough.

But if you're intending this to function as an actual bankable alternate currency, rather than just a sort of local promotional/marketing gimmick, the federal agencies with an interest in money and monetary regulation--the Fed, the IRS, the FDIC, possibly even the SEC--will bother you. For entirely different reasons, and reasons that have nothing to do with the actual printing of notes, but they'll still bother you.
posted by valkyryn at 10:35 AM on May 8, 2014

The Canada Bank Note Company also prints currency.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 12:45 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

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