Is making jewelry out of coins illegal?


Since I first started making coin rings I have been asked one question more than any other. Is making coin rings against the law? The short answer is no, but since I do not have a legal background I’ve enlisted the help of a lawyer to answer this question once and for all.

All the questions!!!???!!!

While I love talking about coin ring making, check out my YouTube channel I talk about Coin Ring Making every day, this question has become a bit of a pain. Like I get asked everyday or get accused of breaking the law, which never feels good. So I wrote this post, I hope it helps!

This question has been to posed me in many different ways. Here are some examples.

-Is it legal to make coin jewelry?

-Is it legal to make coin rings?

-Is it legal to make jewelry out of coins?

-Is coin ring making illegal?

-Is it against the law to make coin rings?

-Is it against the law to punch or drill a hole in a coin?

-Can you legally make coin jewelry?

-Can you legally make coin rings?

-Isn’t making coin rings illegal?

When I started looking into making coin rings I was still unsure if it was legal. So you are not alone in asking this.

Amazingly there is a long history of people making jewelry out of coins that goes way back, people have been wearing money for a long time.

Penny Squishing Machines

One of the best ways to explain how making coin rings is legal to go take a look at penny squishing machines. These machines are all over the country in theme parks, museums and many other places.

Usually you have a slot for the penny you would like squished and a slot to take quarters or bills to pay to make the machine work. You then select the design you would like pressed on to your penny. Some of these machines actually let you hand crank the press while others are powered by motors.

A wheel with the pattern you selected rotates and presses the details on to your penny while squishing it into a flat, long, oval shape. I loved these as a kid and had to use them every time I saw one, I had quite the collection. Oh the 90’s, good times… well anyways back to very serious, grown up question.

I deduce that if it is legal for these machines to exist and operate then making rings out of coins is also legal.

Ask A Lawyer– Is it legal to make coin jewelry?

This blog post is a special one for me. I reached out to a lawyer on TikTok on a whim and she dove head first into the project. I want to take a moment to thank her.

Now I’m going to let her take the lead. The answers written below are from her.

The Law

Title 18 Section 331

§331. Mutilation, diminution, and falsification of coins

“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.”

https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title18/part1/chapter17&edition=prelim

What the law says:

Hey there, Lawyer Kae here! I’m happy to clarify this Federal statute from the “legal side”. In law, every word matters, and it’s important to break down and understand the significance of each part of a law (and the law as a whole). Here, I want to focus on the key word: “fraudulently”. First and foremost, this statute is meant to prevent criminal behavior that involves fraud (knowingly & intentionally making materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations).

What is illegal to do to coins?

This law has been invoked to convict individuals in cases where, for example, U.S. pennies were altered by whittling away the edges so they would be treated as dimes in a vending machine (fraud!). It’s also been invoked to convict individuals in cases of forgery, for example where an individual advertised “multi-struck” pennies to coin collectors, fraudulently claiming that they were erroneously stamped with multiple Lincoln heads at the Federal Reserve, when in fact they were artificially altered (by Defendant) after leaving the mint (fraud!). 

So can coins be “altered” or “mutilated”, etc. without violating this statute?

Yes! The most familiar example that comes to mind are those penny press souvenir machines at zoos and amusement parks. No reasonable person would think that those coins are anything other than fun souvenirs, clearly not usable as money. Hence, there’s a complete lack of “fraud” or anything close to it with those machines. 

When it comes to making other items from altered coins, the calculation is the same. Is the person altering the coin fraudulently mis-representing the resulting item to be something other than what it is? Is the person receiving the resulting item tricked or lied to about what it is and how it can be used? If the answers here are clearly no, then there’s a very low, or no risk, that any crime has occurred. 

So what else could a coin be made into, legally?

You can find all sorts of interesting items for sale, from bracelets and pendants, to belts and key chains, and even rings made from coins! As long as these items are not represented to be anything other than the altered coin / souvenir that they are, there are no criminal penalties in sight. 

The coin rings made by Kevin are so distinct and different from the original coins used to create them, and he is completely transparent about the origin, the process, and the result (jewelry). Those individuals encountering and purchasing coin rings would never reasonably think they are anything other than jewelry. Rest assured, these coins are totally legal to make (and wear)! So, keep on supporting this amazing and creative “coin ring” business.

https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title18/part1/chapter17&edition=prelim

P.S. I did not write about the paper money because it doesn’t have a similar analysis – it doesn’t refer to fraud at all:
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 the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

See the italicized portion- this statute makes it criminal to alter paper money with the intent to make it unfit to be reissued.
I’m not convinced that it’s legal to make jewelry or anything out of paper money….

The Law Section 333

§333. Mutilation of national bank obligations

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 the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 700Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, §330016(1)(B), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2146.)

Historical and Revision Notes

Based on title 18, U.S.C., 1940 ed., §291 (Mar. 4, 1909, ch. 321, §176, 35 Stat. 1122).

Words “or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System” were inserted because the paper of such banks has almost supplanted national bank currency.

Reference to persons causing or procuring was omitted as unnecessary in view of definition of “principal” in section 2 of this title.

Minor changes in phraseology were made.

Amendments

1994—Pub. L. 103–322 substituted “fined under this title” for “fined not more than $100”.

https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title18/part1/chapter17&edition=prelim

Where to find Lawyer Kae

I’d recommend going to Kae’s website which I have linked to below. She specializes in small business law.

Https://startupheartup.com

I found Kea on her Tiktok which I’ll link to below.

https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMJu6USQ4/

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