What we call “paper” money isn’t actually paper at all. Think about it. When you leave your shopping list in your pocket, how does it look when it goes through the wash? It’s an unrecognizable wad of pulp. Even a cardboard box that can hold a refrigerator doesn’t stand up to a heavy rain.
Now think about how many times money moves from one person to another. It’s kind of gross really, but we love finding a forgotten five in our pants because when it’s been laundered we can still unfold it, flatten it out, and spend it again. How does it stand up to the beating?
Despite the name and the deceiving, crisp texture, paper money is actually made of cloth – three parts cotton and one part linen, to be exact. It’s woven from many different lengths of tiny red and blue synthetic fibers. This makes a bank note much stronger than a thank you note because the “rag” fibers bond together more securely than paper that comes from wood pulp, and, added bonus, it’s water resistant. This makes a worn-in dollar behave less like an unreadable mystery receipt and more like a well-loved pair of jeans.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, you can fold a bill forward and backward 4,000 times before it will tear. A one-dollar bill, which is the most widely circulated, will jump from person to cash drawer to pocket to bank and back again for about 21 months before goes to the monopoly board in the sky.
As any antique dealer will tell you, they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Before World War I, the fibers used to make greenbacks were silk. In Ben Franklin’s day, before he was the star of the $100, torn bills could be repaired with a needle and thread.
So, paper or plastic? Cotton, please.