The Real Peril of Fake Treasure

Perhaps one of the greatest joys in life is finding treasure. We tell stories about finding treasure, and dream about how our lives will change once we discover our lost horde of gold and priceless artifacts. And so, if finding treasure is one of life’s greatest joys, then discovering the treasure you found isn’t real is one of life’s greatest disappointments.

One day I was dropping a bunch of paper into the recycling bin at work. Not a little, under-the-desk recycling bin, but the big one outside where sketchy people hang out and smoke sometimes. I was dropping off my paper scraps when I saw a $5 bill at the bottom of the large recycling bin. Needless to say, I was very excited. No, I had not stumbled upon fabled Cibola or busted into a lavish tomb. $5 is not a great treasure, but it is a treasure nonetheless. And I discovered it!

Howard Carter

I was just like Howard Carter, except without the curse.

So I rushed inside to get one of those grabber-claw tools they advertise for old people on TV. When I was younger, I would have just jumped headlong into the bin to claim my prize. But with age comes wisdom. You never know what sort of dangerous things could be mixed in with the plastic and the paper. More important than wisdom, age brings a reluctance to perform acrobatic feats. Not even for five dollars.

When I grabbed the $5 bill with by grabber tool, and got it into my hand my joy was instantly transmuted into bitter disappointment. I did not feel the wonderful, cloth-like texture of money between my thumb and my fingers. My treasure was actually a faithful reproduction of a $5 bill printed on regular old computer paper. It was probably once part of an 8.5” by 11” sheet.

I had gotten excited over play money teachers use to help first graders learn about the economy. I might as well have gotten excited over cardboard coins, or a magnificent golden idol made out of chocolate.

Saxon Horde

Chocolate would be more useful.

So I crumbled the faux-money in my hand, wanting to swear revenge, but there was no one to blame for my foolishness buy myself. Then I got to thinking, if I feel this bad over a fake $5, then people have probably felt far worse when they fell prey to more significant forgeries.

Then sin of the counterfeiter, then, is even worse than it seems. Of course it is wrong to make forgeries. Even worse is tricking people into thinking they have discovered treasure when reality they have found nothing at all. Worse than nothing.

If you owned a priceless Van Gough, would you really want to know if it was actually fake? If you found $5 in the recycling bin, wouldn’t you want to hold onto that joy of discovery for as long as possible. Don’t tell me my money is fake, just let me enjoy it!

Then again, is the joy of discovery worth getting the Secret Service on you your case for trying to spend counterfeit bills?

Captain America

“So, you thought the money you found in the dumpster was real?”