Harriet Tubman Stamp: Is it Legal?

For a bit of context, here’s a short breakdown on what is currently happening concerning the Harriet Tubman $20 bill.

In 2016, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced they would be putting Harriet Tubman on the 20 dollar bill, replacing Andrew Jackson’s front portrait, after 2020.

However, once Steven Mnuchin replaced Lew in 2017, he stated that the United States Treasury would not move forward in following through with Lew’s plans. Mnuchin said, "This is something we’ll consider. Right now, we have a lot more important issues to focus on." Within the last few months, during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, Mnuchin replied to questions that the redesign "will not be an issue that comes up until most likely 2026."

Between 2016 and now, people have started marking their $20 bills with Harriet Tubman’s image as an act of civil disobedience which has led to questions of legality on marking money.

Is it Legal to Stamp Money?

Wooden Gavel on a Desk
18 U.S. Code § 333: "Whoever mutilates…with intent to render [a] bill…shall be fined…or imprisoned…."

According to 18 U.S. Code ยง 333:

"Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both."

There is some confusion as to whether writing, drawing, stamping, or otherwise marking money is considered mutilating or defacing. Which brings up the original question; is using a Harriet Tubman stamp on the $20 bill legal?

So, is it Legal to Use a Harriet Tubman Stamp?

Can On Top of 20 Dollar Bills Marked with a Tubman Stamp
– From @tubmanstamp on Twitter

The short answer is; yes, it is perfectly legal.

The long answer is that altering United States legal tender is allowed so long as half of the bill is still legible and numbers or other identifying elements, such as Federal Reserve IDs, remain unaltered.

The official United States code establishes that it is illegal to mutilate a bill, but the Federal Reserve states,

"Any badly soiled, dirty, defaced, disintegrated, limp, torn or worn out currency note that is clearly more than one-half of the original note, and does not require special examination to determine its value, is not considered mutilated…."

So, what does this mean for the legality of stamping U.S. currency?

It means that changing the denomination of currency or altering serial numbers IS considered mutilation or defacing of a bill and therefore illegal, but writing, drawing, or stamping on the portrait space or elsewhere on the bill is allowed.

Since the portraits on United States paper currency do not contain any number or other identifiers and take up less than half of the bill’s total space, using a Harriet Tubman stamp to cover Andrew Jackson’s portrait is well within the bounds of the law.

The information on this post does not, and is not meant to, constitute legal advice. All information, content, and imagery included are for general purposes only. You should contact an attorney with any legal matter you may have concerns about this issue.

First Coast News recently did a feature on the production of our Harriet Tubman rubber stamps. Additionally, they spoke with the CEO of the Andrew Jackson Foundation, Howard J. Kittell, about his thoughts on replacing Jackson on the $20 bill with Tubman.

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