This Presidents’ Day (when you may be thinking about hitting some of the sales anyway), we would like to celebrate with something actually made of money! This intriguing item, a relief bust of George Washington made from actual U.S. currency, came into our collection in 1899 and belongs to a slightly odd class of tourist souvenirs popular during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These souvenirs were made from old paper currency taken out of circulation and then destroyed in a process known as maceration, which basically involved shredding and pulping the paper so that the money was no longer usable. From 1874 until 1942, the U.S. Treasury used maceration as a destruction method and it proved very effective… except for the thorny problem of what to do with all that pulped paper. Fortunately, there were plenty of enterprising entrepreneurs on hand to turn it into an entire industry.
Souvenir items made from macerated money were very common in and around Washington D.C. and took many forms, from figurines representing Washington D.C. landmarks and notable figures, to postcards and more generic objects. Sometimes the items would have a small label affixed with an approximate value of how much money they contained: a gimmick that only increased their fun novelty value! Although we don’t know exactly how many hundreds or thousands of dollars went into making this bust of George Washington, it dates to between about 1890 & 1910, when macerated money souvenirs were at their most popular.