Artist or counterfeiter?: Considering the controversial J.S.G. Boggs

Drawn money tackles questions of value and worth
By , Coin World
Published : 08/19/16
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At the show, Boggs recounted the story of how he happened upon his unique art, doodling in a restaurant on a napkin the image of a dollar bill. The waitress wanted to buy it, and Boggs offered to pay his 90-cent restaurant bill with his napkin. The waitress completed the transaction when she gave him 10 cents back in change. 

Homren noted, “Boggs was not only an interesting artist, he was a comfortable and entertaining speaker as well.” 

Boggs gave PAN one of his “Project Pittsburgh” bills depicting a modified Series 1886 $5 silver certificate, where the usual silver dollars depicted on the note have been replaced with five blank round voids. That piece would sell for $350 at the show, and to complete the bill, Boggs pulled out his ink pad and rolled winning bidder Morty Kadushin’s thumbprint on the note. 

When asked if the price the note sold for at the auction met the artist’s expectations, Homren recalled Boggs saying, “When it comes right down to it, all transactions are merely an agreement between a willing buyer and a willing seller. Third-party opinions aren’t worth a damn.” 

Later Homren would have the opportunity to purchase a $5 fantasy note that takes traditional elements of U.S. currency design and incorporates more personal elements, including a portrait of a man named Monet A. Electronica. The design cleverly weaves in Moneta, goddess of money, Impressionist Claude Monet and Benjamin Franklin and incorporates Boggs’ interest in the future of electronic money. Boggs personalized it by creating a serial number incorporating Homren’s initials. The completed transaction left Homren with questions: Did he offer too much (or too little), why did he buy this particular work of art and how hard is it for an artist to sell his work? 

As the collector concluded, these questions don’t have clear answers, and he wrote, “It won’t be just a piece of paper on my wall. It will be a reminder of a pleasant encounter and a trigger for more thoughts and questions on the nature of art, money, history and people.” 

Harriet Tubman and Boggs

Though most of Boggs’s publicity and notoriety came in the 1990s, his work continues to be relevant today and a project from the mid-1990s has come to fruition 20 years later. 

An article in the December/January 1995 magazine Worth by Timothy J. Sultan titled “Change for a Hundred” discusses Boggs alongside the government’s redesign of money in the 1990s to incorporate new anti-counterfeiting technologies. 

The magazine asked a group of artists to design a note using similar requirements to the Treasury Department’s. As the article concluded, “Along the way, we learned that strict constraints don’t limit a good artist, and that money can be beautiful, provocative, even moving. That’s only fitting. Banknotes aren’t just valuable pieces of paper. They’re national works of art.” 

Boggs’s $100 Federal Reserve note depicted Harriet Tubman as a young child. Tubman escaped slavery to become a leading abolitionist and a conductor of the Underground Railroad who was personally responsible for freeing hundreds of slaves. During the Civil War, she served as a nurse, a cook, and a scout who gathered intelligence for the Union cause. 

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