The Money Rant

I think I promised that I would write up this rant roughly five years ago. Recent announcements of the coming changes to our printed currency has finally triggered me to share one of my favorite old man grumbles with you, a grumble I’ve had since I was 12 years old. The TL;DR version:

I HATE THAT WE DEPICT HISTORICAL PERSONAGES AT ALL ON OUR MONEY

 

There, I said it. If I had my druthers we wouldn’t have Washington on anything, much less the rest of the questionably dignified dead presidents. In fact, Washington on money was the specific thing they were trying to avoid with the original Coinage Act of 1792. At that time, America was a little touchy about anything that, per the writers of the period, “smacked of Monarchy” or, more rudely, “We waged war to get one George off our coins, damned if we’re going to put another one on.” In the course of the Constitutional Convention, America was arguing about it’s very structure and it got down to seemingly minor things, such as what should our coinage look like? It seems minor until you remember that for as long as anyone in the western world could remember, coins had depicted the current or at least a relatively recent monarch (please ignore the coinage of any Muslim state or iconoclast Byzantium for this argument).

The initial proposal intended to put Washington on all the coins but this was argued back quite forcefully, with Washington’s approval, to a figurative representation of Liberty. And that’s the way our coins stayed until 1909. We had all manner of different representations of Liberty and a few unspecific representations of Native Americans, on the basis that the tribes were the embodiment of freedom and liberty… as long as you ignored the Indian Wars and reservation system entirely. We never depicted an actual person on our coins until the 20th century. Even the Confederacy held to this same minting guidance, not that they had an opportunity to make many coins down in New Orleans with their very limited supplies of bullion. Our paper currency was another matter, with our first post-Andrew Jackson federal bank note in 1862 depicting Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, but that’s a separate rant on Jackson being a worse person than most people think in addition to the horrible corruption of the banking system left in his wake.

As an aside, I hate the “In God We Trust” argument about this having always been on our coins, required by law. The only words that have been required since the beginning were “LIBERTY”, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”, and something to tell you what the denomination of the coin is. That’s it. To bring it back to ol’ Chase again, he had to get Congress to pass a new Mint Act to permit the coins to actually say anything other than these three things. He started with the brand new two cent piece to see how “In God We Trust” was received and then added it to the rest of the coins from there. Once you start a change, it’s hard to undo it which is why people were so resistant to changing anything on coins in the first place.

Which brings us to 1909*.

To help stave off counterfeiters, the US Mint had been changing the designs of the coins roughly once per 25 years, often more frequently, but the penny had been one of those coins that was hard to change. History had shown Americans to be VERY PROTECTIVE of their pennies and they didn’t like it when people wanted to change them, putting the penny on something closer to a 30-50 year cycle. In 1904, Teddy Roosevelt embarked on a beautification campaign of American currency, arguing that a world class power deserved a beautiful world class money. He got easy agreement to update everything, except the penny. The Indian Head Cent was very popular and no one wanted it to change.

The 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent Obverse. The VDB refers to the engraver's initials, which they forgotten in early mintings but added later.

The 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent Obverse. The VDB refers to the engraver’s initials, which they’d forgotten in early mintings but added later.

That is until 1909, the centennial year of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The case was made that The Great Emancipator deserved special recognition, that the most important president since Washington should be immortalized on our coinage in addition to a bunch of fresh statues and buildings in his honor. But that original restriction of the Coinage Act of 1792 remained: you could only depict a figurative representation of Liberty. For Lincoln we made an exception and Congress amended the act to specifically allow Lincoln to be put on the penny.

By 1948, every goddamn coin in the United States depicted a person, with the Walking Liberty falling to Benjamin Franklin on the half dollar. And now, 107 years later we still have Lincoln’s face on the penny. There have been many efforts to change the penny over the decades, with the back of the coin changing four times now, but the idea of replacing Lincoln’s face on the front with something else is a non-starter. Hell, even the argument that we lose money making pennies cannot stand against the tradition of pennies and the face of Lincoln. We are now trapped by the people we honor.

EDIT: As a follow up to answer someone’s question as to what the point of all that was, the purpose was to highlight something historians and archaeologists have always known: a culture’s money says a lot about it. Sometimes it tells the only story we’ll ever know about a culture when the distance in time becomes centuries and those stories also raise questions of their own. Questions like “What happened that they stopped worshiping Liberty and put these people on instead? Who were they? Or are they aspects of Liberty too, because we still see that word there?” This is one of those cases where I rather liked the original intent and the solid 70 years before the first modification of the Coinage Act of 1792. And to quote My Lovely Assistant “It suggests we worship the Founding Fathers like the gods they weren’t.”

These are the things I think about when bored.

 

 


The Columbian Expo Half-Dollar Reverse

The Columbian Expo Half Dollar Reverse

Columbian Exposition Obverse

The Columbian Exposition Half Dollar Obverse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*:  Or 1892 if you want to be super picky and include the very first commemorative coins. Special half dollars and quarters were struck as a fundraiser for the Columbian Exposition, but they were never intended for circulation and more like a collector’s item instead. Technically, Christopher Columbus is the first historical personage depicted on a coin the US Mint struck, followed shortly after by Queen Isabella for the same Expo.

FURTHER EDIT: As I had people argue with me that “obverse is where the face goes, idiot” I would like to clarify. That would be true on non-American coins and would be true all the way back to the first Lydian coins more or less. The face tells you who’s reign you’re in and thus the rough date it was minted. But America didn’t have kings, thus our obverse was defined by wherever we stamped the date and the word LIBERTY. Part of the olive branch in making the Columbian Expo coin was that Columbus’ head would not be put on the front of the coin with the date. It also doesn’t say LIBERTY, so it was never meant to be a “real” coin to the point that they had to make the qualifying statement “COLUMBIAN HALF DOLLAR”.

The obverse is wherever the date rule is went out the window with the Presidential Dollar Coin Program. The Mint Act was amended to more or less remove all the restrictions of the original 1792 act in the interest of artistic freedom. You’ll notice the dollar coin’s date is on the rim now.

Travel and Stein 666

As quite a few of you have already noticed the order slots for the production window ending Halloween are now up. Fair warning, there aren’t all that many slots for this window because the coffee engines will be winding down for the next week; I’ll be in Atlanta updating my knowledge of laser safety regulations. Not how most people would choose to enjoy themselves in Atlanta, but I do like collecting fresh tales of scientific/industrial horror and thus the regulatory changes they cause.

Now, on to more exciting things that I suspect people really care about. Since the very beginning of Stein of Science production, I’ve been inscribing a serial number inside the base and almost as long people have been asking if they can get specific numbers. My policy on that is “first come first served” and you just get the next number as I don’t actually inscribe them until I make them. I’m sticking by that policy, but Stein #666 has had me thinking if something special is order. I thought of auctioning it off and donating the excess of the normal cost to charity. I thought of skipping the number entirely as there are just as many people not excited about getting Stein 666 as there are people that want it desperately.

For people that’ve following along for the glorious adventures of Funranium Labs over the years, you may remember that I did a giveaway for Steins #200, #400, and #600 of a complimentary 665ml FMJ Stein of Science #201, #401, and #601 respectively. I’ve decided that I’m going to do that again for Stein #666. If you are the lucky person that orders #666, the Stein of the Beast, you’ll also get #667, the Neighbor of the Beast Who Lives Across the Hall. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! You will also receive a handsome, rugged, foam lined carrying case to configure as you see fit as your Tactical Drinking Module, a 750ml bottle of Kona blend BBotE with the Tesladyne Gear Logo “REMAIN CALM, TRUST IN SCIENCE”, Ineffable Mustachio’d Goat of Science BBotE sticker and classic Coffee Volcano BBotE sticker, and a 6000SUX sticker, courtesy of Test Subject IT to Porn, to vandalize the gas guzzling car of your choice. BEHOLD!

Stein #667 and Additional Swag

Stein #667 and Additional Swag

 

 

Now, you can go check here to see what stein types are currently on hand. For the record, as of October 16th at 11am the stein count is in the 650s, so it might not be all that long until we hit #666.

The Joy Of The Barter Economy

Once upon a time, before departing for australia, Test Subject Mickie Rat asked if he could get a bottle of Kona BBotE for the upcoming tour his band, The Secretions (blog to be found here), were about to embark on.  As the day for hand-off approached, finances became dire and it was clear that money was best devoted to the gas tank for the tour and food so they didn’t starve whilst rocking.  After some brief consideration that helping make music happen was a good thing, I told him, “You know, I’ve already made it, it’s going to a good home.   I’ll give it to you provided you give Funranium Labs the pimping too.”

When he showed up in the Ratmobile, he gave me a Secretions belt buckle in thanks.  Mickie, thank you much for keeping my pants off the ground in the event of the A to Z alien/zombie attack.  Oh, and for some mighty fine punk music too.  I find it is necessary to have angry music to do math properly and The Secretions make the equations flow for me.

"We Secrete - You Suck"Now, it has come to my attention that not all consumers of BBotE are high-falutin’ investment banker nuclear rocket surgeon physicists.  Many are artists, writers, and musicians.  I respect the creation of art mainly due to my own incompetence at it.  I’ve choked on paint, fumbled words, and managed to bleed just touching a bass guitar but man do I think it’s important.

If you are a broke and starving artist but in desperate need of BBotE or a Stein of Science and willing to engage in the time honored tradition of barter, I am quite willing to do so.  Heck, the beauty of the current incarnation of Funranium Labs you are enjoying now is brought to you by the power of barter.  The worst I can say is no*.

*: Actually, I know many worse words, phrases and creative imagery.  But the worst I’m likely to say is no.