In Amazing Spider-Man #39, a disguised Norman Osborne (the Green Goblin) hires a bunch of hit-men to take on Spider-Man and does it by giving them half the money now. Literally: he splits the bills in half.

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Assuming that the hit-men got their money, they would tape the dollar bills back together. Would this still make the bills legal tender? Or is this something that would only work in fiction?

  • 30
    @EJP Well, it's coming from an insane super-villain in a comic book about a man who wears a red arachnid-themed costume while he swings on homemade string throughout New York to fight other people in brightly colored costumes. Honestly, this is some of the least irrational stuff that we've seen in this comic. Commented May 31, 2016 at 5:12
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    @EJP: It makes a lot of sense if the hirer cares little about the money but cares a lot about the job getting done. The hit-men have every incentive to do their job, with one common obstacle ("Will I get paid? Won't the hirer just keep the money? I can't sue him since we're all criminals...") removed.
    – Heinzi
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 5:59
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    See also money.stackexchange.com/questions/34018/… — I heard long ago that ≥2/5 of a bill counts as half and ≥3/5 counts as the whole, but apparently that's not accurate. Commented May 31, 2016 at 7:50
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    @SteveJessop the "half" money is still usable to the Green Goblin. He can take his "escrow halves" and use it to pay off a separate team of hitmen for a job on Superman - on the same "conditions".
    – emory
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 15:54
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    @emory: good point, Green Goblin should have cut the money in front of the hitman, or at least demonstrated that he had both halves in hand. Just from this panel, his claim that he ever had the other half is suspect, never mind his claim that he'll keep hold of it to pay on completion. If the hitmen's union (or just general knowledge of the technique) prevented GG from using his halves a second time, then the hitman would have nothing to fear in that respect. Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 14:10

4 Answers 4


Assuming both halves have the same serial number printed on them, yes - a glued back together torn bill would be valid. You may exchange it at any US bank. If banks don't want to deal with that - send it to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP). If you only have one half, and it is exactly one half - then it is useless. That is why the person in the comics said that his halves are useless to him. The banks or the BEP will want at least most of the paper currency to replace it.

The act itself (tearing the physical currency intentionally) is a felony with up to 5 years in the Federal prison.

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    So the hit man also needs a non-suspicious explanation as to how this stack of bills accidentally got sliced exactly in half. "You see, I was chopping vegetables for dinner with a very sharp knife, and this stack of cash just happened to be sitting next to the cutting board..." Commented May 31, 2016 at 1:28
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    With all the illegal super-villain stuff that the Green Goblin has done over the years, I'm sure that intentionally mutilating money is the least of his concerns when he goes to prison for his crimes. Commented May 31, 2016 at 1:44
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    @Thunderforge: Just like tax evasion was the least of Al Capone's worries... :-) Commented May 31, 2016 at 5:09
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    @littleadv fraudulently does not mean intentionally, it means with the intent to defraud. Just cutting it in half is not fraudulent by nature; you would have to do so with the intent of committing a fraud - such as taking both halves to separate banks to try to double your money or somesuch. That law is primarily used to prosecute people who 'wash' lower value bills and reprint them as higher value.
    – Joe
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 14:07
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    Altering money without intent to defraud is LEGAL, as others have noted, and there are legitimate reasons to intentionally alter currency. The little markers that people use to test the paper looking for counterfeit is a clear example. As it happens related to coins, I was walking around a park yesterday that has one of those novelty machines that mashes a penny into a themed souvenir. They have exactly the statute that @littleadv has cited on their machine explaining why this is legal, i.e. making a souvenir that you don't intend to pass as money does not constitute fraud.
    – user32479
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 16:03

Under US law, if you clearly have more than half of a torn bill it is worth its full value; the smaller piece is worth nothing... except that having both halves makes the banking system much happier, since it prevents some particularly stupid counterfeiting attempts.

So this proposal wouldn't be cheat-proof unless the cut is close enough to the middle to make determining 51% difficult. And I'd like to see you try to explain to a bank how so many bills were cut in half...

(This is more normally an issue when money has been damaged unintentionally, of course.)

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    I'd just say 'the kids were playing'.
    – Aganju
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 4:58
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    I was on my way to the bank and accidentally surprised Wolverine
    – user662852
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 11:49
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    Cutting the note diagonally shoul insure that you get close to a 50/50 split.
    – Taemyr
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 15:05
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    @user662852 I was on my way to the bank, and actually is Wolverine Commented May 31, 2016 at 15:58
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    Yes, I agree with Aganju. 'the kids were playing'. 'This time, my youngest one, Green Goblin, hired the cat and the dog as hit men to destroy his sister's Barbie collection.' 'Yes, Barbie is going to make it I think. I mean she's badly disfigured now with giant bite marks after she was thrown clear across the room by Green Goblin and retrieved by one of the hit men, but right now she's in intensive care and I have every reason to believe she's going to pull through.' Commented May 31, 2016 at 17:30

The question is about the US but to add the European perspective: The rule over here (I only know German law, but assume it's the same for all of the Euro area) is that you need more than half of the bill or you have to be able to prove that more than half of the bill was destroyed (good luck) in order to get it replaced. Deformed coins can also be replaced.

But all only as long as you didn't break it on purpose. So giving half of the bill to the cab driver would be on purpose and (if the central bank knows about it) make the bill (or coin) invalid.

German information: https://www.bundesbank.de/Navigation/DE/Aufgaben/Bargeld/Beschaedigtes_Geld/beschaedigtes_geld.html


As others have noted, US law says that if you have over half the bill, it's worth the full value, under half is worth nothing. I presume if it is very close to half, if even careful measurements show that you have 50.5%, you'll have difficulty cashing it in, precisely because the government and the banking system aren't going to allow themselves to be easily fooled by someone cutting bills in half and then trying to redeem both halves.

I've seen several comments on here about how you'd explain to the bank how so many bills were cut in half. What if you just told them the truth? Not the part about killing someone, of course, but tell them that you made a deal, neither of you wanted to bother with complex contracts and having to go to court if the other side didn't pay up, so your buddy cut all the bills in half, etc. As you now have both halves and they clearly have the same serial number, this no real evidence of fraud. Okay, this is technically illegal -- 18 US Code Section 333, "Whoever mutilates, CUTS, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both." But you didn't do it, the other guy did. I presume the point of this law is to say that you can't get a hold of currency belonging to someone else and mutilate it so as to make it worthless. As he's now given you both halves, I doubt anyone would bother to track him down and prosecute him.

Just BTW, while checking up on the details of the law, I stumbled across 18 USC 336, which says that it's illegal to write a check for less than $1, with penalties of 6 months in prison. I just got a check from AT&T for 15 cents for one of those class action suits where the lawyers get $100 million and the victims get 15 cents each. Apparently that was illegal.

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    -1 for mis-reading the law. You can't just look at parts of sentences you like when determining what the law means. 18 USC 336 (bold mine): "Whoever makes, issues, circulates, or pays out any note, check, memorandum, token, or other obligation for a less sum than $1, intended to circulate as money or to be received or used in lieu of lawful money of the United States..." The check you got isn't intended for either of the bolded purposes, it's intended to be used to transfer money to settle a debt (I'm certain your check had "Pay to the order of..." on it).
    – Mark
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 20:48
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    @mark Not sure what you mean about "parts I like" -- who said I like it? Certainly possible I'm misreading the law, but what is a check if not something "used in lieu of money"? Instead of giving someone cash, you give him a check. A check can be circulated, i.e. you can sign a check over to someone else. The law specifically names checks as one of the instruments it covers. How could you use a check "in lieu of money" other than by writing someone a check and handing it to him or mailing it to him? What do you interpret this law to mean?
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 13:14
  • @Jay this specific statute basically forbids paper "cents". Only coins can have denomination of a fraction of a dollar.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 7:06

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