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Posts Tagged ‘currency

“Cleanliness is next to godliness”*…

 

One woman feeds bills into the washing machine as another collects the clean bills

Long before the term “money laundering” entered the popular lexicon, the U.S. Treasury Department had an actual laundry shop for grimy greenbacks. The mostly female “redemptive division” worked out of the basement and cleaned up to 80,000 soiled bills a day using mechanical scrubbers…

Come clean at: “Treasury Department Laundry.”

And for an insightful look at the dirty business that money laundering has become, see “The Russian Laundromat Exposed.”

* A colloquial expression (used by Francis Bacon, e.g., but popularized by John Wesley), rooted in an interpretation of Acts 9:32-10:23

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As we love the lave, we might recall that it was on this date in 1939 that The Viking Press published John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  The story of the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by economic hardship– drought, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work– it won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

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Written by LW

April 14, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency”*…

 

In a world full of smartphone payments and cryptocurrency, 85% of all transactions are still done in cash. Australia actually sees cash demand rising at a steady 6% to 7% per year with no decline on the horizon.

As printers and scanners become more sophisticated, the government has moved to ensure that its currency is safe. “What we noticed in recent years, with the availability of technology—particularly around reproduction technology like scanners and printers—counterfeiting in Australia had started to increase. We’re in the fortunate position where it’s still pretty low but it is rising,” says James Holloway, deputy head of note issue at Reserve Bank of Australia. “We thought we just don’t want it to keep rising in a sustained fashion, so the time had come around upgrading security”…

How Australia means to frustrate counterfeiters: “The Painstaking, Secretive Process Of Designing New Money.”

* Vladimir Lenin

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As we bite our coins, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that President George Washington named Alexander Hamilton as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.  A founding Father, Hamilton created the Federalist Party, the world’s first voter-based political party, the the United States Coast Guard, and the The New York Post newspaper.  As Treasury Secretary Hamilton stabilized the nation’s economy and paid back the mountainous debt resulting from the Revolutionary War.  He established the first national bank and created the U.S. Mint in (the precursor of) the form in which we know it today.

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Written by LW

September 11, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Money doesn’t talk, it swears”*…

 

In 1858, the United States was an industrializing nation with a banking system stuck in frontier times… Heated battles over ‘the money question’ came to dominate the country’s politics, but no matter how unsatisfied the people, any solution that tended toward centralization was, due to the prevailing prejudice, off the table.

America was a monetary Babel with thousands of currencies; each state regulated its own banks and they collectively provided the country’s money. Officially, America was on a hard-money basis, but the amount of gold in circulation was insignificant…

And therein hangs a terrific tale, “Printing Money,” an excerpt from America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve in the always worthy Delancey Street; read it here.

* Bob Dylan

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As we bite our coins, we might recall that it was on this date in 1982 that money market deposit accounts were first offered by banks and S&Ls across the U.S.  Pioneered in the early 70s by brokerage houses, the accounts were a way around the Regulation Q prohibition on interest payments n demand accounts.

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Written by LW

December 14, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Nobody knows what a dollar is, what the word means, what holds the thing up, what it stands in for… what the hell are they? What do they do? How do they do it?”*…

 

From QuiltBank, a “subsidiary” of master quilter Nina Paley’s Pale Gray Labs, money– a $1000 “bill”– that one can actually use

Each individually numbered bill is lovingly stitched by our robot Behemoth, which labors for over eight continuous hours at up to 1500 stitches per minute. Slowed down by the many twists and turns of the design, along with thread breaks, bobbin changes, and mysterious mishaps, each bill takes about two days to stitch. Nonetheless we achieve a pattern far more complex than any commercially available quilt.

BindingThe individual bills are painstakingly bound by Nina Paley, using a hundred-year-old foot-powered treadle sewing machine. This soft and tactile bill contains over 360,000 stitches through 100% cotton fabric, lofted with quality polyester batting – the best type for this purpose, though cotton or wool can be used on request. QuiltMoney can be machine washed like any other quilt; this is known as money laundering. 

The design is based on a 1934-series $1000 bill featuring the portrait of Grover Cleveland, the only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms…Each $1000 bill is 40 inches high by 90 inches wide (3’4″ x 7’6″, or 1m x 2.3m) with bound edges. A rare uncut sheet of two is 92″ square, suitable for use on a queen or king size bed. 

More at QuiltMoney.

* Boggs, (“money artist,” quoted in Lawrence Weschler’s wonderful Boggs: A Comedy of Values)

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As we cozy up with our currency, we might send rebellious birthday greetings to Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin; he was born on this date in 1814 (as recorded, O.S., in Russia; it is also rendered, N.S., May 30).  A student of philosophy who immersed himself in Hegel, Bakunin moved to Paris, where he became first a friend, then an antagonist of Marx.  While Bakunin shared Marx’s dedication to justice for peasants and workers, he disagreed that acting through the State was the remedy.  Rather, Bakunin, an anarcho-socialist, argued for the replacement of the state with federations of self-governing workplaces and communes.  Their rivalry came to a climax at the 1872 Hague Congress, at which Marx and his supporters expelled Bakunin and his from the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA).  Bakunin then held a rival conference, and recruited a larger faction of IWA members than Marx.  In the end, of course, while Bakunin was right to predict that Marxist regimes would be one-party dictatorships over the proletariat, not of the proletariat, it was Marx’s approach that enthralled Lenin.

Bakunin argued that, post-collectivization, money should be replaced by labor notes, recompense for work democratically-determined according to time spent and difficulty; still, he would surely have approved of Paley’s hand-crafted currency.

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Written by LW

May 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

America’s most popular export…

 

It’s all about the Benjamins…  The story of the $100 bill is the story of U.S. money itself, and that story is opening a new chapter:

The hundred is the ultimate icon of American monetary strength. “It’s the closest thing to a global currency,” Chris Jones writes, “with about 60 percent of them somewhere other than here, making the Benjamin the most legal and threatened of tenders.” It’s getting a makeover…

Read a feature-by-feature rundown of the upgrade at “The New Hundy: A Study Guide.”

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As we button our wallet pockets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that then-President Richard Nixon declared that the official U.S. price of gold would be raised from $35 to $38 per ounce, devaluing the dollar, and effectively ending the Bretton Woods system of international financial exchange.  Earlier, in August of that year, Nixon had suspended the convertibility of the dollar into gold; still, the dollar was pegged at the $35 value stipulated by Bretton Woods.  In changing that value, Nixon ushered in the era of freely-floating currencies that remains to this day.

What has become known as “the Nixon shock” was a response to an overvalued dollar (a result of national debt incurred in the Vietnam War and the Great Society programs), and a subsequent move by nations (first West Germany, then Switzerland and France) to redeem their dollars for gold.  U.S. gold reserves fell by half from their level a decade earlier, to $10 Billion, and the U.S. feared a “run” on that remainder.  The suspension of convertibility addressed that danger, and (along with the price freeze, minimum wage guarantee, and import tariffs that accompanied it) helped both to stabilize the U.S. economy (temporarily- the period of “stagflation” was relatively soon to follow) and to bring the other developed economies to the negotiating table.  The results of that parlay, The Smithsonian Agreement, raised the “value” of the gold to $38 per ounce, eliminated convertibility as feature of the international currency regime, appreciated other currencies against the dollar, and focused efforts to balance the world financial system on special drawing rights alone.

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Written by LW

December 18, 2013 at 1:01 am

Significance is where you find it…

 

 At CoolSerialNumbers.com, Nashville musician and currency collector Dave Undis brings together like-minded digit-heads who have little interest in the history of money or even the denomination of a given note. Instead they are after certain patterns and series that fall under the flexible heading of “fancy” serial numbers.

Low serial numbers, from 00000001 to 00000100, are sought after, as well as palindromes (23599532), solids (with a digit that repeats eight times), seven-of-a-kinds (66666665), ladders (45678901) and important dates (12071941). The criteria get even more obscure from there: Undis is seeking a pi note, with the number 31415927. But the more apparently jumbled the digits, the less likely it is that anyone with the bill in their wallet will ever notice.

Which is too bad when you consider how much these fancy numbers can sell for—quite a bit more than the bill’s face value, in some cases. Right now, on Undis’ website, you can buy a $1 bill with the serial number 00000002 for a whopping $2,500. If that sounds like chump change, consider that a $5 bill with the number 33333333 goes for $13,000.

You can also peruse the Cool Serial Numbers collection, displayed via Google+, and get a sense for how oddly soothing a row of zeros can be, although “radar repeaters” have an interesting effect of their own, and who could resist collecting the elegant numbers of the Fibonacci sequence?…

Read all about it at “A ‘fancy’ serial number can make a $1 bill worth thousands.”

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As we comb through our currency, we might recall that it was on this date in 1920, his first season with the New York Yankees (after being traded from the Red Sox), that Babe Ruth hit a record 54th home run.   While seven years later Ruth raised the record to 60– a mark only topped in 1961 by Roger Maris– it was this first year in pin stripes that changed baseball forever:  at Boston, Ruth had been a starting pitcher; but the Yankees moved him to right field, making him a regular hitter.  And hit he did.  Ruth ushered in the “live-ball era” of the sport, as his big swing led to rising home run totals that thrilled fans, but more fundamentally helped baseball evolve from a low-scoring, speed-dominated contest to a high-scoring power game.

And, of course, he did it without the aid of modern performance enhancements… just cigars and booze.

Ruth in 1920

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Written by LW

September 29, 2013 at 1:01 am

“Gold is the corpse of value…”*

 

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In the wake of World War I, with metals scarce, Germans faced a shortage of pocket change.  So cities, corporations, and sometimes individuals printed and used Serienschein (series notes), a form of Notgeld (emergency money).  Circulating from 1917 to 1923, in the run up to the great inflation that presaged the rise of National Socialism, the Serienschein were denominated in small amounts– one Pfennig up to one or two Marks– unlike the Notgeld issued during the great inflation, which were issued in giant denominations, up to $100 million Marks…

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And even then, required wheelbarrows for transactions…

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But the Serienschein were unlike the huge inflation bills in another way, too:  while the Weimar bills were as uniformly drab as the circumstances that spawned them, Serienschein— sourced from many different places, as they were–  were hugely various and often strikingly designed…

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These fascinating notes began to give way to their drab– but astronomically denominated– successors in 1922, when the European victors in WWI, led by England, demanded their reparations payments in full (and in gold).  Reeling still from their loss, and unable to rev their economy sufficiently quickly to cover the vig, the Germans were effectively bankrupted… and reduced to printing money.  Printing it as fast as they could.  The social toll was huge, and had a profound political effect, paving the way for the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

One notes that once again a group of European countries, this time ironically led by Germany, is looking to a beleaguered neighbor, this time Greece, for repayment at a time when the Greeks do not have the capacity to earn their way to solvency. (One notes, too, that Spain, Portugal, Italy, and others are trailing perilously closely behind Greece…).  So as one watches right-wing nationalist movements gather strength in these debtor nations, one can only hope that the folks with hands on the tillers in Germany (and at the EMU) recall George Santayana’s admonition (in The Life of Reason): “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

See more examples of Serienschein here.

*Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

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As we think again about stuffing our mattresses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1929 that panicked sellers traded nearly 16 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange (four times the normal volume at the time), and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 12%.  Remembered as “Black Tuesday,” this was the conclusive event in the Crash of 1929, and is often cited as the start of the Great Depression.

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Written by LW

October 29, 2012 at 1:01 am

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