Category: Currency

Chop Marks (and Where’s George)

One unique and fascinating thing about currency is that it travels. Almost like a chain-letter, a bill can go from one person to another to another. A dollar bill you put into a machine to buy a candy bar in California may later be paid to someone cashing their payroll check at a bank in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Chop Mark example 1

And like a well-traveled passport, sometimes cash, as it travels about, can get stamped with little designs known as “chop marks”. Some examples are shown to the right.

Originally chop marks referred to marks made on coins circulating in Asia. These were made by merchant’s who would stamp the coins with a mark in order to indicate the authenticity and value of the coin.


Chop Mark example 2

What do the modern chop marks mean? Who knows? It’s one of the interesting things about them. Banks in some countries may stamp bills that they have identified as “legitimate”. This may also be something like a stamp of approval or authenticity. Or perhaps the stamps are evidence of an elicit or shady transaction… If you come across an interesting one consider sharing it.

I should add, the most common “chop marks” are simply numbers written by hand across the face of a bill. These however are probably just written by a book keeper counting the day’s earnings into stacks and writing the stack total on the top bill.


Where’s George Example

Similar to chop marks, there is a fun website called Where’s George ( that allows you to track your own currency as it makes it way from stranger to stranger. It facilitates this by allowing you to enter into a database the serial number on your bills. You then write on your bill something like “Visit to see where this bill has been” and then you spend the money. It’s that simple.

Hopefully, as your money changes hands, someone will see the note you wrote and will go to the web site and enter the serial number. They will see where the money has been and you will be notified that it has re-surfaced.

You can buy rubber stamps that make marking up your dollars much less labor intensive (search for “Where’s George rubber stamps” on-line.).

From my own experience, only a small percentage of my bills ever re-surfaced — perhaps 10%. After year or so they stopped re-surfacing at all. It suggests to me that paper money is much shorter lived than we think.
Still, a lot of fun when you get that hit on your line.

EURion constellation

There was once a time when counterfeiting currency was a rare skill. But when color copiers and digital scanners became commonplace suddenly anyone with compromised ethics could try their hand at counterfeiting money.

One curious way that governments tried to circumvent this was to incorporate a sort of digital watermark called the EURion constellation into official bank notes. This pattern consists of five rings arranged in a specific relationship to one another (see illustration). The software that was commonly used in color copiers, scanners and printers was modified to detect this constellation and would refuse to function.

The name EURion is a tongue-in-cheek portmanteau of EUR (for the Euro currency) and the Orion constellation (which the pattern does have a passing resemblance).

Famously, Adobe Photoshop, an obvious tool for the would-be modern counterfeiter, adopted this detection code in its software and will refuse to allow the user to edit a document that it has determined contains the EURion constellation.

A number of countries have been incorporating the pattern into their national currencies (over 50 currencies) beginning in the late 1990’s. Many times the pattern itself is disguised or blended in to the art of the bank note. United States currency for example have fields of their bills that appear to be numbers scattered seemingly randomly about. On the back of the twenty dollar bill the number “20” can be seen spread across the left and right halves of the bill. The placement of the zeroes however is very deliberate and forms the EURion constellation in many places.


Numbers on back of a U.S. Twenty Dollar bill.


Sample EURion pattern connecting some of the zeroes.


Musical notes on back of a U.K. Twenty Pound note.


Sample EURion pattern connecting the musical notes.

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