By Abigale M. Rothschild
Money is more than a symbol of capitalism.
To some people, each creased line of wear that appears on a dollar bill testifies of adventure.
When money trackers make an exchange, they see a story unfolding of where that green George has been and where it is going.
A Web site dedicated to tracking money helps these people create timelines of all that happens between birth and the Federal Bureau of Damaged and Mutilated Currency.
By entering in serial numbers at www.wheresgeorge.com, trackers can see if anyone has entered information about a bill. Then, after spending the bill, they can wait for an e-mail informing them when the bill has been entered by someone else.
In Where’s George terminology, hearing about a bill after it has been exchanged is called getting a hit.
According to Hank Eskin, the Webmaster, there are 405,742 users who have entered 5,448,178 bills.
But trackers are not allowed to bring large bundles of marked bills to a bank to increase their hit rates, nor are they allowed to exchange money with relatives to win the farthest distance award.
According to the guidelines posted on the site, bills must be spent in a natural exchange.
“In general, the Where’s George definition of natural and geographic circulation is spending your cash in the course of any normal transaction with any unknown person/entity,” the site said.
One of the reasons the site prohibits people from taking bundles of money to the bank is because federal controllers of currency don’t look favorably on money defacement, and trackers often mark bills with the address of the site to increase the probability that somebody else will enter it.
The site sold stamps at one point, but stopped after complaints from the secret service, Eskin said in the frequently asked questions section of the site.
According to the Federal Bureau of Engraving and Printing fact page, defacement of currency is defined as “defacement with intent to render such items unfit to be reissued.”
But technically writing on bills is legal unless it causes mutilation or damage, and in the chat room at Where’s George, avid users discuss the intricacies of bill marking.
One user, whose online name is Frank, offered about 15 suggestion for what to write when marking bills including, “Enter, mark, spend. Track this bill’s journey.”
Frank said people use different colors and sizes of stamps.
“Some people like to use two different stamps: one for the front of bills, and a different one for the back,” he said.
Frank said he has entered 648 bills and has had 58 bills receive hits.
For people like Frank, tracking is serious business despite the fact that there are no monetary awards involved in tracking.
There are no extrinsic rewards of tracking on Where’s George besides the ego boost of being placed on the top ten list for having the most hits.
In the frequently asked question section, Eskin explains that the site “exists for fun because it has not been done yet. The point of Where’s George is not to make money or collect e-mail addresses, it is to have fun tracking your dollar bills.”
The idea of tracking money is not new, but usually it is a radio station that runs a money-tracking contest to increase listeners.
Star 102.7 in Salt Lake City recently ran a contest in which a million dollars was offered to whoever could find a bill with a certain serial number.
Mike Nelson, an afternoon air personality at Star, said there was a big response from people looking for the bill.
He said the location of where the bill was spent was not announced, but that people had two to three months to find it.
“Nobody ever presented the bill,” he said, “but one lady was only one digit off, and one person presented a bill that had 102.7 in the serial number sequence.”
He said the odds of someone finding the number was phenomenal, but he said once people caught onto the concept, they had a lot of fun with it.
“One guy had a serial number that was straight sevens he had held on to for 10 years,” Nelson said.
Nelson said similar radio contests have been done ofen in different cities, but he said the Where’s George site is doing some pioneering.
The only problem with Where’s George, he said, is that not everybody has and uses the Internet faithfully.
Perhaps it is the fact that the chances are so low of getting a hit, which intrigues users and makes getting a hit so rewarding.
Or perhaps it is the stories — because despite the fact that the average life span of a dollar bill is shortened by wear, a lot can happen in that time.
And in the larger scheme of things, money changes throughout time and can tell a lot about a culture.
Jack Weatherford, in his book “Savages and Civilization” said paper money came about because it was lighter than coins.
“The Chinese already minted coins with a hole in the center so that the coins could be strung together in bundles of a thousand. Using paper money, several such bundles could be replaced with a simple slip of paper. The Chinese used money as early as 1024.”
Whether currency is a hollow coin or a mean green, it is sure to reflect the stories of a society.