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Finding George

I guess it's because I love to travel...or perhaps because I'm a gypsy at heart...or, it might just be my overactive imagination. No matter the reason, I love to ponder the journeys of inanimate objects - how they traveled from their point of origin into my hands. I do this with lots of things: flea market treasures, imported cheeses, exotic fruits, and money, especially money. I'm always delighted when I discover a dollar bill with a message on it; what a fun way to circulate anonymous good will! A couple of months ago, I received one that had a bible verse about money and prosperity in the shaky scrawl of an elderly person. I kept it for weeks, imagining her life and what circumstances inspired her to pen that verse on a dollar before sending it back out into the world. This is perhaps why I so enjoyed watching the movie National Treasure - the symbols and hidden messages on the money we use everyday completely intrigued me! So, last year, when a bill stamped www.wheresgeorge.com in red ink fell into my hands, I had to learn more. I visited the site and discovered it is a free currency-tracking website created by computer consultant Hank Eskin in 1998.

Here’s how it works: A user registers an e-mail address at the site and enters the serial code and year of each bill he or she wants to track, as well as the zip code where each bill was found. The user then writes www.wheresgeorge.com on the bills and spends them.  Hard-core groupies can buy ink stamps to mark bills like the one I received. With any luck, a future owner of one of those bills (like me) will notice the writing, go to the site, and register the location of the bill. So I did. And that was that. I completely forgot about my special George until a couple of days ago, when I received an email notification that "my" dollar bill had been found! It was thrilling...like sending the message in a bottle and being contacted by the beachcomber who found it. Want to see where it went?  Click here.

The George-tracking website doesn't officially recognize the bill that's traveled farthest. But anecdotally, at least, one traveled from New Jersey to Ireland and back. If you haven't seen one of these wheresgeorge.com bills, don't be surprised. The Treasury Department says there’s about $600 billion worth of U.S. paper money circulating worldwide. In contrast, only about $101 million has been stamped "wheresgeorge." The Federal Reserve says the average $1 bill wears out after 18 months. This means my 2003 dollar is a survivor! A $100 bill, which travels less, lasts about nine years. And is it illegal to deface currency? The U.S. Treasury Department says it's all right to write on money, as long as the writing doesn't deface the bill so much that it's unusable.

Today's my birthday, and one of the things I'm wishing for is to have more of those $600 billion dollars' worth of bills circulating my way. I look forward to receiving all of them, but I'll especially savor those few rare gems that are stamped and signed with a little extra personality! In fact, I may even send some positive message back out into the Universe via my favorite messenger, George.

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