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Was Boggs an artist or a counterfeiter?
By Neil Shafer
November 07, 2017

Editor’s Note: This article is Part II of a two-part study of James Stephen George Boggs, the internationally famous money artist who died at age 62 in late January of this year. Click here to read Part I.

In 2001, Boggs engineered the manufacture of 100,000 Sacagawea dollar copies in orange plastic, which he called Boggs Money. (It is surmised that Boggs used orange for these pieces as well as many of his Boggs Bills because that is the color employed by the FUN show for its uniforms, and a goodly number of his products are directly related to that event. Besides, he lived a while in Florida and for a period of years he rather faithfully attended that show.)

I received a set of seven of these plastic dollars, and six of the seven have distinctive differences on their obverses that make them each unique. All have a normal-looking Sac image and LIBERTY above. All have legend BOGGS MONEY at left instead of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. The most distinctive differences are seen in the date area. Details as follows: 1) 1984/CH; 2) FUN/1999/B; 3) FUN/2000/G; 4) FUN/2000/J; 5) FUN/2000/J; 6) 2000/M21; 7) 2001/S. It would appear that Nos. 4 and 5 are identical. As made they are in fact the same, but on one of them there is the handwritten name J S G / BOGGS in black on the reverse in capital letters, exactly as received from Boggs.

When the plastic Boggs money debuted, Boggs told Numismatic News (Jan. 23, 2001) that he considered it a natural progression in his evolution as a money-issuing entity.

“I want them to circulate as money,” he said. “I made so many of them [100,000] to prevent them from leaving circulation as quickly as they were put in.”

To add to the collectibility of the new Boggs Money, Boggs told the News that Boggs Money was issued in different dates and mintmarks. Among the combinations available were a 1984-CH (CH stands for Chicago, where Boggs got his start; 1984 was the year), 2000-J, -G, -B and 2001-S (the J, S, G and B relating to his initials; 2000 is the year in which he conceived this project) and 2001-M21 (the M21 is in reference to a museum of 21st-century art planned for St. Petersburg, Fla; Boggs had donated “real” U.S. currency to its founding).

Boggs told the News he planned to exchange any previously-issued Boggs bills for the Boggs Money at face value or slightly above. He said he envisioned a time when discounts on the direct purchase of his artworks would be given for those using Boggs Money in payment.

It’s unlikely that Boggs ever realized this part of his dream for Boggs Bills and Boggs Money.

To explain his actions further, his admirers and Boggs himself considered his “transactions” as true works of art. Apparently the art world agrees with this assessment, as he is represented in such highly placed institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. “I create images that say things and ask things,” Boggs said in the 2013 Discovery Channel documentary “Secret Life of Money.” “I take them out into the real world and try to spend them, not as counterfeits, but as works of art that ask us about the nature of money.”

In 1994, Bank Note Reporter commissioned Boggs to do a special Boggs Bill to be used as a Bank Note Reporter subscription premium. This was in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the Florida United Numismatists in January 1995.

Those who paid $40 for a one-year subscription to BNR also received a Boggs “FUN 40 print” (a limited edition of 500) and a $1 Boggs Bill in change. The Boggs Bill was based on real money, showing the back of $1 bill but orange in color for FUN.

Nine hundred of the Boggs Bills were produced and serial numbered. Those used in the promotion were numbered 101-600. (The additional 400 were used by Boggs for other purposes, including the payment to the FUN committee and staff “for working so hard on the show.”)

After the BNR promotion ended, the remaining souvenir cards (159 of them valued at $1 each) and the Boggs Bills (120 of them valued at $1 each) were part of a transaction, later that same year, at an exhibit of Boggs’ works at the Nancy Drysdale Gallery in Washington, D.C. They were exchanged for a work called the “Big Penny,” by Tom Otterness, valued at $250 (Bank Note Reporter, June 1995). Change and a receipt were given to complete the “transaction.”

Boggs was apparently interested in other aspects of money creation. Some works of money art that he designed include the mural All the World’s a Stage, roughly based on a Bank of England Series D £20 note and featuring some Shakespearean themes, as well as bank note-sized creations that depict Boggs’s ideas as to what U.S. currency should look like. A $100 bill featuring Harriet Tubman is one known example.

The book by Lawrence Wechsler discussed last month has some quotes by Boggs but most of the text is by Wechsler. I have two other publications about Boggs. One is titled J.S.G. Boggs / smart money about an exhibition of art at the Tampa Museum of Art around 1990. Main text is by Bruce W. Chambers and Arthur D. Canto. This booklet also lists a number of renditions by Boggs. (From what I have seen on the Internet and elsewhere, there can never be a complete listing of all of Boggs’ works.)

The last is a reprint of a 1993 article in the Chicago-Kent Law Review that was written by Boggs. It is titled “Who Owns This?” Here, finally, one gets the full impact of his philosophy as he expresses his personal thoughts on many aspects of art, money, his participation and its reception by the authorities.

In summation, I believe Boggs was quite a unique individual who literally made his indelible mark on the numismatic and art worlds in a way that will have ramifications for many years. I am very glad I got to know him at the conventions where we were able to spend some time together and where he allowed me to assemble a collection of his works of art.

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