News and Tribune

April 19, 2013

STAWAR: Found money

Local columnist

Last week, my wife Diane found three $100 bills tucked into a book that was donated to LifeSpring’s used book store, where she volunteers. 

It’s not so unusual for her to find things in books. Usually, however, they are items like bookmarks or newspaper clippings. This is the first time she’s found anything of value. 

Last year, she found and returned a Christmas party invitation sent to Jeffersonville attorney Jack Vissing when he was in high school. It must have been in one of those “vintage” books. 

“Accidental” contributions evidently are not that rare. In 2011, an 80-year-old man from Moline, Ill., inadvertently donated a suit to Goodwill that had his entire life savings of $13,000 sewn into the lining of the jacket. The money was never found. 

Illinois is somewhat infamous for its cash hoarding. In 1970, the well-regarded Illinois Secretary of State, Paul Powell, passed away on a trip to Minnesota. A few days later, a friend found a shoebox in Powell’s closet containing $750,000 in cash. Despite a lot of speculation, the source of the cash was never determined. It was mere chance that the shoebox had not been thrown or given away.

Goodwill Stores and The Salvation Army commonly receive many of these donations. In 2005, a Manitowoc, Wisconsin family donated several of their grandmother’s possessions to the local Salvation Army after her death. The family had kept her diary and reading through it several weeks later, they discovered that she had hidden a large amount of cash in some plastic Easter eggs they had donated. She was planning to surprise her family with a special Easter egg hunt. I guess they were surprised, as neither the eggs nor the cash were ever recovered., a website which shows the prices of used books, surveyed a number of booksellers and they reported finding a variety of strange items tucked away in books, including thousands of dollars in cash, a Christmas card signed by L. Frank Baum, a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card, a 1879 marriage certificate, a baby’s tooth, a diamond ring, a handwritten poem by a famous Irish poet and even a slice of bacon that had been used as a bookmark. The tooth and a used Q-tip tied for the worse things found in a book. 

Adam Tobin, the owner of a Brooklyn, N.Y., used book store, has created a display devoted specifically to all of the objects he discovered in books over the years. Mostly he finds things like postcards, shopping lists and concert tickets, but his favorites are the “cryptic notes.” He says these notes, which reflect people’s real lives, are “often deeply personal and can be very moving.” 

 So far as cash is concerned, Tobin has only found a single dollar bill, but he has discovered a letter written by C.S. Lewis, the author of “Chronicles of Narnia.”

All of this brings us back to the $300 that Diane found. One apocryphal story says that President Abraham Lincoln got his nickname, “Honest Abe,” at least partially because he once walked three miles to return 6 cents that he had overcharged a customer when he was a store clerk in New Salem, Ill. 

While that story may be dubious, it is true that Diane walked about two blocks to return the $300 she found in the donated book — “How to Talk Minnesotan” by Howard Mohr, a former writer for A Prairie Home Companion.

Of course this still begs the question, what was the money doing in the book in the first place? After much pondering, Diane and I came up with several possibilities. We’ll leave it to the reader to make up their own mind. 

1. Improvised bookmark. This is our oldest granddaughter’s theory. Without a proper bookmark at hand, some reader simply grabbed the first thing available and used it as a bookmark. Plausible, but who besides Scrooge McDuck would be wallowing in hundred dollar bills while reading and why would anyone need to use three of them when one would suffice. I can understand using a slice of bacon as a bookmark, but never a C-note.

2. Cash as a security stash. People often hide cash in order to feel more secure. Survivalists, for example, often fret that our banking system is on the verge of collapse and that when all the ATMs finally explode, they will need a source of ready cash. What better place to hide your money than in a nice low-tech book. 

I can identify with this motive. When I first started college I sold my rapidly deteriorating 1960 Chevrolet Corvair. I was paid, ironically, three crisp $100 bills. To assuage my anxiety about leaving home, I tucked one of the bills in my shoe and kept it there for the entire first semester. 

3. Youthful carelessness: Diane speculates that the money could have been placed in the book by some careless youth, who received it as a birthday or perhaps graduation present. As for me, I think the Prairie Home Companion association with the book argues against this, unless the young person was thinking that this was a book that nobody was ever going to read.

4. Domestic concealment: A poll conducted by SELF magazine found that 46 percent of Americans admit to occasionally hiding money from their spouse. While some folks are saving up for an anniversary surprise or maybe a divorce, most people use this cash for secret purchases. A book would be a good place to hide such money, especially if the book was one that the spouse was unlikely to read. Of course, such books are also vulnerable to being given away. 

5. Beach trip: Going to the beach always presents the problem of what to do with your valuables. The time-honored technique is sticking your wallet in your sneaker, pushing it way up near the toe, as comedian Jerry Seinfeld recommends. Stashing money in the book you’re taking along is perhaps slightly less obvious, but also harder to remember later. 

6. Divide and conquer: Whenever we take cash on a trip, I divided it into two or three parts and put those in different places so that if we’re robbed we still will have some money left. The book could be a place to hide trip money. I once found a $20 bill from a past trip tucked into one of the pockets in our suitcase. It was like winning the lottery. 

7. Intended as gift, but not given: Perhaps the money and the book together were intended to be a retirement or graduation gift to a Public Radio fan. 

8. Getaway money: The money might have been intended as a quick getaway fund. Admittedly, you can’t get very far on $300. Even back in 1994, O.J. Simpson had $8,000 in getaway money in the Ford Bronco. Greyhound, however, does offer a bus ticket from Louisville to Miami for only $210.

9. Wallet too full: It is possible that money was placed in the book because the hider’s wallet was too full to contain anything else. This would be like the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza’s wallet was stuffed so full that he experienced back pain and had to sit at angle until the wallet eventually exploded. 

10. Ill-gotten gains: The money could be profits that would reveal that the hider was engaging in behavior that the spouse would consider unacceptable. Since the money could not be explained, it would have to be hidden. 

11. Payoff/bribe money: The money could have been hidden because it was to be used as a payoff or perhaps to bribe some Minnesotan, you betcha.

12. Alms and good works: Of course, we’re pretty sure that this money was set aside only for good and respectable purposes, like buying an adorable puppy for the wife, contributing to NPR or maybe paying a church tithe.


  — Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at