News & Politics

What Happens to Coins Thrown in Washington Fountains

Plus—which location gets the biggest haul.

The National Gallery of Art water fountains, where they scoop out $5,000 annually. Photograph by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Newscom.

Throwing a coin into a fountain for good luck may date to the Roman Empire, when life-giving spirits were thought to dwell in water. These days, fountains in Washington are still magnets for coins that provide a lift to local charities or the fountains’ owners.

Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center

Number of fountains: Four.
Cleaned: Daily.
Take: Josh Wample of Cascade Fountains says a UN’s worth of currency is found, from euros to Canadian pennies.
Annual haul: Less than $1,000.
Goes to: Children’s Miracle Network.

National Building Museum

Number of fountains: One, in the Great Hall.
Cleaned: As needed.
Annual haul: About $500 in 2013.
Goes to: The museum’s general fund.

National Gallery of Art

Number of fountains: Nine.
Cleaned: East and West Garden Court fountains in West Building are cleaned with a Shop-Vac monthly; West Building’s Rotunda, Garden Café, and Sculpture Garden fountains as needed.
Annual haul: $5,000.
Goes to: Classified as unrestricted gift to the museum.

Market Square

Cleaned: Once a year.
Annual haul: $60.
Goes to: Buckets of collected coins are turned over to Alexandria Vocational Services, which uses it for picnics and other parties for clients.

National Mall

Number of fountains: 17.
Cleaned: Fountains are turned off for the winter; passersby take coins before National Park Service employees can collect them.
Annual haul: Unknown.
Goes to: National Mall fund.

This article appears in the August 2014 issue of Washingtonian.