Is That a $20 Bill? Would Be a Shame If Someone Were To... Stamp It

When the U.S. Treasury Department hit pause on a plan to replace Andrew Jackson’s portrait with Harriet Tubman’s on the $20 bill, artist Dano Wall took matters into his own hands.

by Emma Specter
Nov 3 2019, 10:45am

Perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of our era will be the fact that we tried to right the wrongs that had been in place since time immemorial. In this pursuit we’ve had to tear down many institutions and figures in order to put in place that which represents everybody and champions a more equal way of life. In the United States, this conflict has found unusual ground in its currency, which today boasts the faces of the usual old, dead white men. Since at least 2015, a vocal community has advocated to put the abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman on the face of the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the U.S., who has largely fallen out of favor on account of his mistreatment of Native Americans and his support of slavery.

Imagine the surprise when it was announced in 2016 this would no longer be a pipe dream and the Tubman twenty would actually hit the streets in the year 2020. Perhaps less surprising, this past July, Donald Trump’s Treasury Department decided to delay the Barack Obama–era plan to replace Jackson with Tubman on the $20 bill.

Luckily for fans of social justice and numismatics, there is still a way to pay for your Pret salad with woke legal tender. The artist Dano Wall, who’s been working with 3D printers since 2012, has found a creative loophole for this very 2019 phenomenon: He created a stamp that allows users to superimpose Tubman’s face over Jackson’s.

“There wasn’t a lot of hope when Trump took office, because in interviews he talked about how he thought replacing Jackson [on the $20 bill] was a disgrace,” says Wall, who works at an educational electronics company. Once he heard Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s statement about the bill, Wall and several coworkers had a mutual lightbulb moment: “We have the technology, why don’t we just take this into our own hands?”

Wall originally thought of his idea as a singular art project-cum-DIY tutorial. “I didn’t even think of it as something that had a larger product associated with it, but as soon as I used it on an actual $20, it was clear that it struck a nerve and was doing something important,” he says. Wall was quickly flooded with requests from friends and family who loved the idea and wanted a stamp of their own. He “made around 60 or 80” before realizing that he had a product in his hands, albeit one that seemed to have a deeper meaning beyond commerce. From there, it was a quick jump to Etsy, where the stamp sold out almost immediately. Over the last year, Wall has donated profits from the stamp's sale to various charities, most notably Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund.

"My relationship with the SPLC started, oddly enough, through art," Wall explains. "I happened upon their series of maps that track the size and location of all known hate groups in the US, [and] I was inspired to create a 3D printed version of this map." He adds, "I keep coming back to SPLC because I think the work they do to track the spread of white supremacist ideologies and the legal representation they provide to causes that would otherwise have no voice is essential to making our country a safer and more just place."

The stamp-altered $20 bill is still technically legal tender. (The law defines defacing as one who “mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together” bills with the intention of rendering them “unfit to be reissued.”) “There have been some reports of trouble with bank tellers, but [the bills] can be deposited into ATMs. The stamp itself doesn’t hamper any of the security features on the bill,” Wall explains. The Tubman stamp is more important than the money it imprints, though; when applied to the government-issued Jackson bill, it takes on a near-revolutionary context, functioning as a defiant call to arms against Trump administration’s institutionalized racism and misogyny.

harriet tubman
Andrew Jackson