After researching and researching on the internet I was unable to find any official documentation regarding novelty notes. Yes there are ton of web sites that passingly state, "It's fine if you aren't trying to defraud." But some random web site having this posted with no follow up was not solid enough for me.
The closest to an official stance I could find was on the US Treasury's web site:
Did the Treasury Department ever produce a $1 million currency note? I have one that I want to know about.
We receive many inquiries asking if the Treasury Department ever produced a $1 million currency note. People have sent in copies of these notes. We have found that they are nonnegotiable platinum certificates known as a "One Million Dollar Special Issue." These notes were from a special limited copyrighted art series originally sold by a Canadian firm for $1.00 each as a collectible item. They are not official United States currency notes manufactured by our Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP). As such, they are not redeemable by the Department of the Treasury.
You may be interested to know that the BEP learned of these certificates in the spring of 1982. All related correspondence was forwarded to the United States Secret Service to decide if there were any violations of Federal currency laws. The Secret Service subsequently advised, however, that these certificates did not violate any United States law.
Other sites such as the US Secret Service And the Bureau of Engraving and Printing State the laws regarding reproduction of actual denominations. Much of @Amphiteót's excellent answer refers to these.
The Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992, Public Law 102-550, in Section 411 of Title 31 of the Code of Federal Regulations, permits color illustrations of U.S. currency provided:
The illustration is of a size less than three-fourths or more than one and one-half, in linear dimension, of each part of the item illustrated
The illustration is one-sided
All negatives, plates, positives, digitized storage medium, graphic files, magnetic medium, optical storage devices, and any other thing used in the making of the illustration that contain an image of the illustration or any part thereof are destroyed and/or deleted or erased after their final use
Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992
Other Obligations and Securities
Photographic or other likenesses of other United States obligations and securities and foreign currencies are permissible for any non-fraudulent purpose, provided the items are reproduced in black and white and are less than three-quarters or greater than one-and-one-half times the size, in linear dimension, of any part of the original item being reproduced. Negatives and plates used in making the likenesses must be destroyed after their use for the purpose for which they were made. This policy permits the use of currency reproductions in commercial advertisements, provided they conform to the size and color restrictions.
Motion picture films, microfilms, videotapes, and slides of paper currency, securities, and other obligations may be made in color or black and white for projection or telecasting. No prints may be made from these unless they conform to the size and color restrictions.
All this was very, very clear. However, this doesn't seem to cover, imply, or state anything with respect to non-real denominations.
So as a final resort I contacted my local field office for the Secret Service. I spoke with an agent and explained what my desires were.
- which appears to be currency only at first glance
- clearly stating "non-negotiable" and "not legal tender" on BOTH sides
- featuring the Statue of Liberty on the front - no president
- featuring Mount Rushmore on the back
- the standard size of a bill
- printed in color on both sides
- using standard 24# paper -so it won't be close to actual bills.
The agent's immediate reaction was the following....
"If you're looking for something which states what you can do in terms of "novelty" or non-negotiable bills, most likely, you won't find such a statement. However, what you've expressed sounds okay. The US government understands that notes are often represented in sales and advertising and provides some leeway provided there is no intent to defraud."
The agent did also have one other very important stipulation:
- You can not recreate or attempt to recreate or mimic the Seal of the US Treasury or the Seal of the Federal Reserve.
Nowhere was I able to find that information and I would not have known it were it not for my call to the Secret Service. It was this type of information which concerned me when I posed the question.
The agent also expressed that if the illustration/design were complete and there is any uncertainty regarding it, the Secret Service is happy to take a look at the artwork and make a direct judgement based upon seeing it.
So, if anyone else comes across this, I would encourage them to contact their local Secret Service Field Office and merely express what it is you are trying to do and how you can ensure no problems arise.
Be aware I was not seeking to deface existing notes or to create a note which would resemble any actual denomination created by the Federal Reserve. Those are entirely different matters with different restrictions and issues.
This should not be seen as legal advice by any means. This is merely my own account of this issue, as I confronted it, and the resolution I found.
On the bright side.. I just made a million dollars!!!!! You don't get to say that every day :)