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Correction: In the original version of this post, a quote from the Museum of American Finance website stated that the telegraph arrived in the 1950s. This actually took place in the 1850s. The museum has now revised its site to reflect the correct year and we have revised the relevant text in our post. We regret the error.
One could say that Sesame Street character Bert’s extreme interest in paper clips is misguided, but his obsession with pigeons? Maybe not so much. Pigeons have played a role in financial history, with one such role described by Tony Chen during his walking tour of the Hutong district in Beijing. When his group of tourists reaches the Qianshi hutong (see video), he gives an almost unbelievable account of pigeons, exchange rates, and bank robbers during the Ming dynasty, as reported in Time Out Beijing:
Within the New York Public Library Digital Collections is the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views. Stereoscopic photographs were viewed with a stereoscopic viewer or stereoscope. According to the “About” tab of the NYPL page for the collection, “During the period between the 1850s and the 1910s, stereos were a mainstay of home entertainment, perhaps second only to reading as a personal leisure activity.” They also functioned as a way for people to travel vicariously, or as an aid to the study of history and other cultures. You know you’ve found an image meant to be seen with a stereoscopic viewer when it is double, with the images slightly askew from one another. The kinds of images that were particularly suitable as subjects for stereoscopic photography were those involving objects at varying distances from the viewer (for example, landscapes and cityscapes). (This is only one form of stereoscopy, which incorporates other technologies.)
U.S. savings bonds were created in 1935 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to assist the United States in raising funds for a variety of government programs.
One popular marketing tool was to enlist popular culture to sell the bonds, with television proving to be a natural outlet. An example was a commercial featuring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz encouraging people to buy U.S. savings bonds for Christmas.
It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and we’re not asking you questions or dispensing advice about it—that’s not (yet) our business. However, we can offer two attempts at humor regarding the Bank of England and amorous activity. The first touches upon a central bank’s fear for its reputation and the second its fear of being “manhandled” by the government.
Did’ya ever notice how silly those Historical Echoes posts can get? Andy Rooney passed in November 2011 (see the New York Timesobituary and the obituary from CBS), so he missed his chance to comment on the Liberty Street Economics blog (although here’s a guy pretending to be Mr. Rooney talking about blogs). But while he was alive he sure had a lot of funny and insightful things to say on a lot of topics, including bank names.
Metaphors, similes, analogies—we know they’re not the same thing, but they can do pretty much the same job when illustrating what monetary policy is like (or what anything is like). Here are a few such monetary policy comparisons from some notable economists and commentators. For some reason, they all seem to involve physics. More exist, of course.
Note that monetary policy encompasses a range of concerns, not just a single issue. Therefore, the metaphors and analogies illustrate different phenomena.
On June 24, 1968, thousands of people swarmed assay offices in the United States, anxious to unload their holdings of silver certificates. The U.S. Treasury had deemed this the final date on which the certificates could be exchanged for silver bullion. People camped out overnight to ensure that they would beat the deadline, and the resulting lines stretched for hours. Life Magazine covered the story, and offered a history of silver certificates in the United States.
From 1793 until 1861, when the U. S. Treasury Department was given exclusive rights to produce legal tender, thousands of different styles of bank notes were created by U.S. banks. The banks all based their currencies on standardized units, but in most every other way the notes differed wildly—colorful versus monochromatic, and graphics ranging from stock images to almost any concept one could imagine.
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.
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.”)
Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from economists working at the intersection of research and policy. The editors are Michael Fleming, Andrew Haughwout, Thomas Klitgaard, and Donald Morgan.
The views expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.
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