Found Money, Visualized

Bar chart showing count of currency found over time
Click through to interact with the chart!

I first began picking up and tracking change I found in August 2014, then really started getting invested in it the following year.

In 2016, for each day that I found any currency, I took a photo of it and wrote something about that day.

Then I wanted to get a little more interactive, so I tried to develop a project in which I’d replace a coin I’d found with a coin-sized token I’d numbered consecutively. That went bust, because there wasn’t a way for someone who’d found one of my coins to trace it back to the project (and because hammering info into tokens is noisy work unappreciated by roommates, cats, and neighbors).

I was stumped in overcoming these design flaws (and do people even pick up beautiful small things, anyway?), and then I started graduate school, so I felt a little less invested in picking up any change I’d come across, seeing a penny on a subway stairwell, sighing deeply, and passing it by.

Still, I continued to dutifully put the money I’d found into jars, which I’d then organize at the beginning of a new year. Last week I was counting out the 2019 haul, which seemed like a smaller amount of change than I’d accumulated in past years. So I wondered: Was that accurate? What had I picked up over the past five (and change) years? How much was it all worth, and how many individual pieces of US currency had I carried home in my pockets?

I dropped the data into a couple of spreadsheets to find out.

Chart displaying value of currency found on the street
Click through to interact with the chart!

As you can see, the number of coins and bills I’ve found has dropped over the past few years. Part of that is certainly due to being busy, and also being disheartened by the stagnating project. But it’s possible there are other factors. I could be walking around less than I used to. It might be that I am more open to noticing, but I feel like I’ve seen more people picking up pennies before I get a chance at them. Maybe economic factors are playing a role: If money becomes tighter for people, are they more likely to pick up found change, or retrieve change they’ve dropped, leaving less to be found by me?

pile of US coins on a newspaper

For the second session of the excellent data librarianship course I took last semester, everyone brought in an example of physical data. If these piles of coins, several years’ worth I still need to bundle and deposit, weren’t so heavy, I could have easily provided them as raw data, the 2016 notes and my memories as the associated field notebooks.

This processed data could potentially tell a lot of stories, but also, maybe not. And the stories it’s not telling are like those I only kept track of in 2016, the stories of how or when this money came into my life, like how I found three five-dollar bills in 2017, each in a different state. The data also eliminates other information, like all the foreign and fake currency I picked up, including a good number of British pounds during an overnight stay in Derry last summer.

Context is important, whether the data involves pennies or chocolate or whatever. The statistics gleaned from this data are interesting, but the stories behind them are, too. Here’s hoping I can find a way to incorporate more of them as I continue to pluck coins from the sidewalk in the future.

GRAND TOTALS, 2014-2019
Total Pieces of US Currency Found: 3,646
Total Value of US Currency Found: $175.22

GRAND TOTALS, 2015-2019

Amount Count Total Value
Pennies 2,879 $28.79
Nickels 139 $6.95
Dimes 398 $39.80
Quarters 125 $31.25
$1 Coins 1 $1.00
$1 Bills 10 $10.00
$5 Bills 5 $25.00
$10 Bills 1 $10.00
$20 Bills 1 $20.00

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