Remaking Money

January 31, 2020

Imagine you’ve been saving money to buy a new scooter. Finally, you’re ready to make the purchase. But your envelope of cash is missing. Then you make a shocking discovery. Your brother accidentally put the envelope through a paper shredder. Your cash is confetti.

COURTESY U.S. BUREAU OF ENGRAVING AND PRINTING

Don’t panic. The U.S. government can help you get your money back, Eric Walsh says. He works for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), in Washington, D.C. The BEP is the government office that prints paper money. Walsh works for the BEP’s Mutilated Currency Division. His team figures out the value of mutilated money. Then BEP repays the person who sent it in.

In 2018, BEP handled about 24,000 claims. Each claim is handled by a single examiner.

COURTESY U.S. BUREAU OF ENGRAVING AND PRINTING

“It’s a painstaking job,” Walsh told TIME for Kids. “Some of these cases are just giant jigsaw puzzles.”

Patience Pays Off

Water and fire are the most common causes of mutilated pieces of currency. “The toughest cases are the burnt ones. The notes shrink and look like Monopoly money,” Tina Barnett says. She’s a BEP examiner. Her job is to work with damaged bills.

To do their job, BEP examiners use simple tools to separate damaged bills.

COURTESY U.S. BUREAU OF ENGRAVING AND PRINTING

To make sure a bill is real, Barnett uses a microscope to read its fine print. She also uses special lights. Otherwise, the job is “pretty low-tech,” Walsh says. “Examiners go through each note and piece it together by hand.” They use simple tools, such as tweezers, glue, and tape.

The hard work is worth it. “For some of our customers, this is their life savings,” Walsh says. “So it’s very rewarding to be a bright spot in people’s lives.”

The Money Factory

ANDREW HARRER—BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing has a nickname: the Money Factory. Why? Each year, it prints billions of dollars’ worth of paper money. It was founded in 1862, in Washington, D.C. Public tours are available. But don’t expect to see nickels or dimes. Coins are made by the U.S. Mint.