How I went in search of a Banksy, and ended up with a Dog Full of Money.
A few days ago I posted a burglar alarm from Bristol with a sticker of a funny dog on it. It looked a bit like a Banksy, so I decided to research it – and what I came across, via the magic of Google, was the phenomenon of “Dogs Full of Money”. Known as DFMs for short, these were a spate of photocopied stickers which appeared internationally in 2006, all bearing mutated variations on the outline of a dog-shaped charity collecting box with three coins dropping into its head, as above.
The dog on the burglar alarm was too decayed to guess its author; what led me to hope it was a Banksy was its confident style, and the witty way it made the Shorrock branding read “Shock”. Excitingly, the first similar sticker thrown up by Google did indeed sport a Banksy logo, but the dog itself was so badly drawn that the logo had to be a forgery, done as part of the mutation. The others I came across were even more amateur-looking, but still I clung to the hope that the burglar alarm dog was by Mr Banks himself, perhaps an uber-mutt from which the DFMs had been copied by lesser hands. After all, it had the refinement of overlapping coins, whereas the other stickers depicted them spaced out. I realise now that was just so the image could be cut out in one piece, but in the grip of this heady mystery, it seemed significant.
So I worried away like a terrier at the world of DFMs, chasing clues down a maze of ever-older and obscurer web-holes. I turned up stickers from New York City, Barcelona, East London, Cambridge and Bristol, but the vast majority came from the distinctly unglamorous Hertfordshire town of Hitchin (there’s a good survey of them by photographer Paul Davis here). I discovered a bit of press interest in 2006, but no info on the artists; and the “official” website, http://www.dogsfullofmoney.com, had long since disappeared. I finally hit paydirt on Flickr, under a DFM photo by David Cowie, where in 2006 someone called dogfullofmoney had left this comment:
“What’s a Dog full of Money?” It is NOT a ‘Guide dogs for the Blind’ dog shaped collection box known as a ‘Fred’!!! Let’s just get that straight. A Dog full of Money or DFM is one of those plastic dogs you sometimes see outside charity shops which you can put money or JUNK in it’s head. They are very rare these days, in fact the only one we currently know of lives in a supermarket in Bristol. My friend Satan Christ and I (Steven Mugabe) are Dog full of Money enthusiasts. We produce stickers, posters, stencils, T-shirts etc…. to celebrate DFMs.” [sic]
I tracked the colourfully-named duo mentioned in this comment down to a flurry of 2006 posts on a popular bulletin board (a kind of underground chat forum), in which a bunch of mates discussed the genesis of DFMs using language which – like the statement above – gave every impression of being written by over-excited but well-educated adolescents. Along the way I unintentionally found out quite a bit more about some of the individuals concerned, which shows that even if you don’t use Facebook, it’s hard to be anonymous on the internet. Presumably they’ve all grown up and moved on now (I hope so for their sakes), so I won’t give any more details. But, unexcitingly, all the evidence suggests that the DFM phenomenon was down to an in-joke by a bunch of workshy, tea-drinking students with bases in Hitchin and Bristol, having a brief bit of fun in mid-2006 – after which the DFMs dried up.
For one final obsessive twist, I turned my attention to the item the DFM was based on. That was more fun than chasing down the stickers, because vintage figure-based charity boxes are genuinely evocative things, which have inspired fine artists as well as graffiti artists – for instance Damien Hirst’s Charity, a giant model of a girl in leg irons, copied from a 1960s Spastics Society box. The Flickr comment above claims the DFM dog was not a Guide Dogs for the Blind one, but my image research suggests that it’s the only charity which portrays a Labrador – the PDSA and RSPCA use other breeds. The drawing on the DFM sticker is good enough to recognise as a Labrador, so in fact it surely was based on a guide dog box – I’ve linked to a Flickr gallery of some below, and there’s a group dedicated to them on Flickr for those who want more.
The moral of the story is twofold. Firstly, tangling with surveillance can have long-term consequences: who’d have thought that, four years after putting a sticker on a burglar alarm, some weird design freak would hunt you down on the internet? Secondly, try not to get dragged into in the black hole of obsession that is web research: I have just wasted several days of my lifespan investigating and writing about a load of unfunny, ill-designed stickers – even joining a stupid teenage bulletin board – simply because I wanted a dog sticker on a burglar alarm to be by an overrated Bristol graffiti artist. I still like that particular sticker. But I guess it isn’t by Banksy.
For the record, I’ve made a couple of Flickr galleries of Dogs Full of Money.
Dogs full of money (stickers) – a selection of the stickers
Dogs full of money (boxes) – a selection of the collecting boxes