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96 posts on "Historical Echoes"

November 21, 2014

Historical Echoes: Postage Stamps Portray Stories of American Banking History




Smithsonian_Postal_Museum_1985_0482_20067


Prior to 1876, there was fierce competition among engraving firms and private bank note companies for contracts to print U.S. Treasury bank notes. Then, in 1877, congressional legislation established the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) as the exclusive printer of U.S. government currency.

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November 14, 2014

Historical Echoes: Personal Effects

HandbagMuseum_Amsterdam_Blog1114_220b

Does the Federal Reserve or the government care about pocketbooks? Not literally pocketbooks (except perhaps for the role of handbag manufacturing in the economy). But yes, if “pocketbook” is meant to refer to the spending capacity of the country’s citizens. It is easy to find phrases like this opening statement in the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Monthly Review for October 1968: “In 1967, the consumer emptied his pocketbook of more than $492 billion on various goods and services.” A more recent article in the Wall Street Journal put it this way: “One worry, however, is that rising food and energy prices could hit households in the pocketbook and make them less willing to spend on other goods and services, weakening the recovery.” The budget of the U.S. government for 2009 proposed that “total discretionary spending rise no faster than the size of the economy, to prevent day-to-day government spending from consuming an even larger share of the nation’s pocketbook.” “Nation’s purse” is more commonly used in reference to government spending, whereas “nation’s pocketbook” refers to consumer spending. (In Britain, they actually use the phrase “nation’s handbag.”)

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November 07, 2014

Historical Echoes: A Stitch in Time Saves You from Carrying Around Worthless Money



Blog_110414_Smithsonian_450
Lauren DiCioccio, a mixed media artist, sews (in the sense of embroiders) money. She has created a remarkable Colombian 5,000 peso bill, a Hong Kong 20 dollar bill, a 10 euro bill, and various versions of U.S. paper currency (when it was still just green). Her creations cannot be used as legal tender and, although quite realistic, could never be confused with legal tender—She leaves the uncut colored threads hanging out from behind each piece as if to say, Yes! This is sewing!

Stitched_two-dollar-bill_center

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October 10, 2014

Historical Echoes: “Burns Money” on What’s My Line?

Amy Farber

WhatsMyLine_HULL In a May 2014 Historical Echoes post, Marja Vitti describes what happened to money too old to be left in circulation: it was incinerated by the Federal Reserve Banks until passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970, after which the money was shredded. Paper money incineration by a Federal Reserve Bank employee was the subject of a hilarious broadcast of the famous TV quiz show What’s My Line? In this broadcast, which aired on June 12,  1960, Thomas Hull, in charge of burning the money for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, steps onto the set, writes his name on the chalkboard, and when asked by John Daly, the show’s host, where he comes from, needs to repeat “Lake Ronkonkoma, New York” three times before he is understood clearly. You might think that this is why Mr. Daly answers so many of the panelists’ questions himself rather than letting Mr. Hull answer them. But you’d be wrong—he does this for pretty much every contestant to ensure that communications are clear and the game remains fair.

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August 22, 2014

Historical Echoes: Federal Reserve Clams

Marja Vitti

We’ve already talked about clams being used as money as late as 1933, but some genuine clam shells found during the construction of the New York Fed’s building at 33 Liberty Street sparked both geological interest and many witty remarks about “clams” being fossilized under a bank.

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August 15, 2014

Historical Echoes: Caricatures of Financial Leaders in the National Portrait Gallery

Amy Farber

Kascht-greenspan-buffett-caricatures-300px-(2) Caricatures of Alan Greenspan and Warren Buffett in the National Portrait Gallery? Are we hearing correctly? The National Portrait Gallery indeed collects and has great respect for caricatures. The Gallery had a 1998 exhibition and post entitled “Celebrity Caricature in America.” Caricature is quite an old art form: According to Werner Hofmann’s 1957 “Caricature from Leonardo to Picasso,” caricature in the Western world dates back to Leonardo da Vinci. Caricatures of bankers and financiers have been around probably as long as bankers and financiers.

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July 18, 2014

Historical Echoes: The Worst Bank Robbers in Mendham, New Jersey

Megan Cohen

There are many methods by which financial institutions can ready themselves for worst-case scenarios: they participate in the federal deposit insurance system, they follow a variety of banking regulations, and they prepare for natural disasters, for starters. But what about bank robberies, which typically strike their targets with little or no warning?

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June 27, 2014

Historical Echoes: The United States’ First Credit Union–Run Out of a Gentleman Lawyer’s Front Parlor

Amy Farber

St. Mary’s Bank was the first credit union created in the United States, in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1908. A website honors both the centennial of the institution and the credit union concept. A small museum (see article about its opening) was created near the site of the credit union, which is still functioning.

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May 30, 2014

Historical Echoes: Aye, That Piece of Eight You Be Thinkin’ of Were a Precursor to Today’s Dollar

Amy Farber

Why do we associate pieces of eight with pirates? Perhaps it has to do with the role of the phrase “pieces of eight” in one of the greatest pirate adventures in literature, Treasure Island* (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883). It’s Captain Flint the parrot, belonging to the pirate Long John Silver, who’s continually screaming “pieces of eight!” The last few sentences of the book read:

The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them; and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts or start upright in bed with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”

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May 23, 2014

Historical Echoes: The Trouble with Money

Marja Vitti

“The trouble with money,” said a Federal Reserve Bank of New York publication in the 1960s, “as with all material things in the world, is that it does not last forever.” The Federal Reserve has the important task of adding liquidity to the market, but did you know that it is also responsible for removing money—literally—through currency destruction? U. S. currency is made of 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton, which makes it pretty durable, but even so, currency is removed from circulation at a surprising rate. Each denomination of notes has its own life cycle, and $1 bills, for example, have to be replaced every 5.9 years or so.

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