Friday, April 18, 2014

Is that expanded shell going to get you a 6x8 cell?

Coin Magicians seem to spend half their lives altering coins for magical uses, and the other half trying to find someone to watch them do the trick with their new FrankenCoin.

The question always comes up, "Is is LEGAL to make a gimmicked magic coin?" I decided to do a little, hopefully definitive, research.

I found the answer while looking up law related to using coins for jewelry-making. The art world, not unlike the magic world seems to operate in a bit of a legal grey area. Activities that would get you jail-time if done for a commercial purpose are just fine, or at least the Treasury will look the other way, if the same activities are done as part of creative expression.

According to 18 U.S.C. § 331:

“Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States; or Whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled, or lightened— Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

That pretty much says your ass is going to jail for making a Flipper Coin. But wait! That says "fraudulently alters..." So as long as you're not trying to buy some Twinkies (Mmmm, Twinkies) with your Super Triple Coin, the police are going to let you slide?

A question on the Treasury Department's FAQ asks whether it's legal "to use coins to make jewelry, souvenirs or other items?" The answer would make Bill Clinton proud, "Those coins are classified either as not current or as mutilated. The Mint redeems mutilated coins at the value of their metal content."

But, uh, I believe my question was...but...but, my stapler!

Finally, near the bottom of the page, we get a bit more of an answer:

“This statute means that you may be violating the law if you change the appearance of the coin and fraudulently represent it to be other than the altered coin that it is. As a matter of policy, the U.S. Mint does not promote coloring, plating or altering U.S. coinage: however, there are no sanctions against such activity absent fraudulent intent.”

So the answer is, well, about the clearest you're going to get from the government. But as long as they have cattle ranchers to harass and pipeline deals to stall, the government is too busy to bother with you trying to impress the Starbucks counter girl with your Dean's Set of Walking Liberties.