Pop Quiz: Do You Know the Cool Facts About Cold, Hard Cash?

Steve Boggan
Recently, British writer Steve Boggan followed a $10 bill for a month, tracking its movements as it passed from person to person across America. In that time, as Boggan documented in his Twitter feed and in a later book, his sawbuck went from construction workers to grocery stores, bartenders to bankers, flowing through dozens of hands.

Forget flags and fireworks: When it comes to things that really hold America together, few things beat the little scraps of green and black paper that we keep in our pockets. These tiny pictures of Presidents and patriots pay for our necessities and feed our dreams, but how much do we really know about them? While researching U.S. currency, we compiled this little quiz. If you've ever wondered about the bills in your pocket, take a peek!

Pop Quiz: Do You Know the Cool Facts About Cold, Hard Cash?
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Pop Quiz: Do You Know the Cool Facts About Cold, Hard Cash?

A. Because blue was already taken.
B. Because America wanted the rest of the world to be envious.
C. Because the color green was hard to counterfeit.
D. Because dollars were originally issued to pay soldiers.

Warren Buffett isn't a fan of buybacks, but his company is helping out the estate of a long-time shareholder by repurchasing $1.2 billion worth of stock.

One can argue that Buffett is being hypocritical. He became a vocal proponent of higher tax rates for the wealthy when he argued that he's paying a lower tax rate than his own secretary. Why is he helping a billionaire estate take advantage of attractive tax rates that will likely expire this month?

Well, it's still a smart thing for Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A)(BRK-B) to do. Selling $1.2 billion worth of shares on the open market would've probably dealt the stock a blow. Buying back the stock -- and retiring the shares -- turns a problem into an opportunity. The estate can cash out, and the rest of Berkshire Hathaway's investors can enjoy the increased earnings on a per-share basis given the reduced share count.

Greenbacks first entered the scene during the Civil War. Up until that time, the federal government only minted coinage, not paper currency. But with the war on, the government needed to increase the money supply, and paper was the answer. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing used a new green ink, which was difficult to photograph, imitate, or erase, making it hard to counterfeit. In 1929, when the government switched to newer, smaller bills, it again chose green, but this time for different reasons: To begin with, it had a huge surplus of the pigment. More important, though, by this time, the color green had stuck -- it had, in fact, become a symbol of the might of the U.S. government.

A. 6 months
B. 2.3 years
C. 4.8 years
D. 9.6 years

According to the Federal Reserve, one dollar bills last, on average, for 4.8 years, but other denominations have different lifespans. The shortest is the $10 bill, which only lasts for 3.6 years, and the oldest is the $100 note, which lasts for 17.9 years.

A. 13 pounds
B. 22 pounds
C. 51 pounds
D. 107 pounds

A. Yes
B. No

From Susan B. Anthony to Sacajawea, to Elsie Stevens, the wife of poet Wallace Stevens, American coinage has featured a parade of women. Folding money, however, has been a very different matter: Only one woman, Martha Washington, has ever been depicted on the front of a bill. She appeared on $1 Silver Certificates in 1886, 1891 and 1896.

A. Richmond, VA
B. Baltimore, MD
C. Charleston, SC
D. New York, NY

When the Civil War began, the South didn't have the printing resources necessary to engrave its own currency, so it contracted the American Bank Note Company, which was based in New York, to create engraving plates and mint its currency. Later, the company spun off its New Orleans office, changing its name to the Southern Bank Note Company, and freeing it to do work with the Confederate government.

As a side note, before the Bureau of Engraving and Printing opened in 1862, some of the U.S. government's currency was also produced by American Bank Note company's New York office.

A. Crane & Company
B. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing
C. Hallmark Card Company
D. Hammermill Paper Company

Crane & Co., a 211-year-old paper manufacturer based in Dalton, MA, produces most of the paper used to print U.S. currency. For that matter, it also makes currency paper for use by countries around the world!

Unfortunately, the money business is not paying as much as it used to: In August, the company announced plans to lay off 55 workers.

A. 75% cotton fiber, 25% linen fiber
B. Recycled flags
C. 50% wood pulp, 50% hemp fiber
D. 25% recycled paper, 75% cotton fiber

Unlike most paper, U.S. currency paper isn't wood-based. It's actually made from a mix of 75% cotton fiber and 25% linen fiber. Among other things, this makes it more durable: unlike wood-based paper, it will not disintegrate in the washing machine. In fact, according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, a dollar bill can be double folded (folded backwards and then forwards) 4,000 times before it will tear.

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