The Faces On Our Money

I’m glad that Harriet Tubman will become the new face on the front of the $20 bill.  When I read, in connection with the announcement that the twenty will be redesigned, that no woman has been featured on U.S. paper currency in more than 100 years and no black woman has appeared on American bills, ever, I thought those were ridiculous omissions that should be corrected as quickly as possible.  Tubman, who bravely led escaping slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad and then advocated for universal suffrage and women’s rights, is a great choice.

why-we-could-soon-see-harriet-tubman-on-the-20-billI’m not sorry that Andrew Jackson has been booted off the front of the $20 bill and moved to the back, either.  Sure, Old Hickory may have beaten the Brits at the Battle of New Orleans and been a strong proponent of the federal government at the time the southern states first started talking about secession, but he was a slaveholder who “owned” 150 human beings at the time of his death.  You can talk all you want about Andrew Jackson being a product of his era and his place, but given his slaveholding past, putting him on the face of one of the most used American bills in this day and age is just wrong.  I’d take him off the bill entirely.  We can learn about Jackson during history class, but we don’t need to see him every time we are paying for our lunch.

For that matter, I’d like to see the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the twenty start a process of moving away from politicians being the only faces on our currency.  I’m as big a fan of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as anyone, but I’m heartily sick and tired of politicians being the default option for coins, currency, or the names of public buildings.  There’s a lot more to America than dead Presidents.  How about thinking outside the box, for once, focusing on the richness of American culture, American invention, and American accomplishment, and coming up with some non-political figures to feature on our paper money?  I’d rather have Louis Armstrong, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, young Elvis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Lucille Ball, Dr. Jonas Salk, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Neil Armstrong in my billfold any day.

Advertisements

Five Pfennig Found

Some people who buy old houses find treasure — caches of money, bearer bonds, or jewelry squirreled away beneath floorboards, behind a loose block in the basement, or in a secret compartment in the attic.  Unfortunately, we haven’t found anything remotely like that in our new house — which actually is an old house, built in the early 1900s.

IMG_4802We have, however, found a 5 pfennig coin.  It was issued in 1950 by the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, or the Federal Republic of Germany — that is, the Cold War era, pre-unification West Germany.  We do live in German Village now, after all, so finding an old German coin is apt.  It makes me wonder if perhaps one of the former owners of this house took a trip back to the Fatherland in the years after World War II, got this coin on his trip, and simply paid no attention to it when he found it in his pocket upon his return.

The pfennig was the equivalent of the penny in the years before Germany switched to Euro, and the pfennig and the penny are linguistically related.  It’s also interesting, and a bit galling, that the value of German coins plummeted as of 1950, the year of our coin.  During the years immediately after the end of World War II, before the Federal Republic became the national government in 1949, some German states got together and minted Deutches Lander coins that are of interest to collectors.  Once the Federal Republic took over, however, its coins became commonplace, so our 5 pfennig coin has no real value — except as blog fodder and a good luck charm.

If only our prior owner had returned to the homeland a few years earlier!

Presidents And Pocket Change

Today is President’s Day. I celebrated by looking at the the change in my pocket — and wondering about the history of placement of Presidents on our nation’s coinage.

Of course, now there are Presidents on every coin we use regularly. (I’m not counting the Sacajawea dollar, the Susan B. Anthony dollar, or some of the other oddball coins that have come into being recently.) Abraham Lincoln is on the penny, Thomas Jefferson on the nickel, Franklin Roosevelt on the dime, George Washington on the quarter, and John F. Kennedy on the half dollar. That’s been the roster on U.S. coins since the 1960s, when President Kennedy replaced Ben Franklin on the 50-cent piece.

Although Presidents have been on all of the American coins in common circulation for most of my adult lifetime, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, no American President appeared on a circulating coin for the first 140 years of our history. Most American coins featured depictions of Liberty, or native Americans, or native animals, or a combination of the same.

The first President to appear on a coin was Lincoln, who knocked a native American off the penny in 1909. He was joined by the Father of our Country in 1932, when George Washington replaced a Liberty figure on the quarter, by Thomas Jefferson in 1938, when the Sage of Monticello took his place on the five-cent piece and the classic buffalo nickel was discontinued, and then by Franklin Roosevelt, whose visage replaced the Mercury dime in 1945.

I’m not opposed to honoring Presidents, but I’d like to see American coins go back to recognizing themes rather than individuals. Coins like the liberty penny, the buffalo nickel, and the walking Liberty half dollar were beautiful, and aspirational. Our current coins are pretty boring by comparison.

The Joy Of Counting

I keep a coin box on a dresser in our bedroom.  When I come home with change in my pocket, I put it in the coin box.  Then, when the coin box is filled to overflowing, I get to experience one of my great little pleasures — counting the coins and putting them into coin rolls.

IMG_3225Why do I enjoy this little chore so much?  Well, for one, it’s tangible evidence of our thrift.  We’ve saved the coins, after all, rather than frittered them away on lottery tickets or video games, and it’s nice to tote up the amounts every once in a while and see the fruits of our frugality.

There’s also a tactile, sensory element that is enjoyable.  You dump all of the coins out on a surface and hear their jingle and clatter.  You grab a flattened coin sleeve — I usually start with pennies, because there are more of them than any other coin — and pop it open.  My right index finger goes into one end of the coin roll, to stop and straighten the coins that are inserted into the other end.  Then the counting begins, and what a joy it is to count again, to 40 or 50 depending on the coin, like you are back sitting attentively at your desk in first grade.

The counting continues, the rolls fill up, the dollar coins that are given as change at automatic change dispensers get stacked, and the excess coins get put back into the empty coin box, to be counted next time.  Hey, more then $30.  Not bad!

Canada Loses Its Cents

On Friday, Canada minted its last penny.

The rationale for this move is that it costs more to mint the penny ($.016 each) than the penny is worth.  In addition, Canada’s Finance Minister concluded that people weren’t using the penny for business.  Instead, they were just putting them in jars at home.  So, no more Canadian pennies will be minted.  Those that have been minted thus far will remain in circulation — at least until they get tossed into the penny jar on someone’s bedroom dresser or kitchen counter.

It will be interesting to see exactly how this works.  According to the linked article, retailers will charge credit cards to the penny, but the price for people paying cash will be rounded to the nearest five-cent interval.  Odd to think that people paying with declared legal tender might end up paying a few cents more for that privilege than people swiping a plastic card, isn’t it?  I imagine that retailers will just establish uniform prices in five-cent intervals to avoid the issue.  Canadians won’t see any more of those beckoning $9.99 prices that retailers are so fond of; instead, Canadians will be seeing a lot of $9.95.

People have urged the U.S. to do what Canada has done, which is probably the first step toward an entirely electronic economy.  All money is an abstraction, of course, but at least there was a satisfying physical dimension to dollars in your wallet and coins in your pocket, and its cumbersomeness provided some security.  Now, the accounts holding your life savings can be emptied in the blink of an eye by a savvy hacker a world away with a few well-chosen keystrokes.

This is called progress.  Of course, if that unfortunate incident happens, we can all fall back on the pennies we’ve carefully hoarded.

Retirement Riches Untold

I didn’t win the Mega Millions lottery payout, which means that a key assumption in my retirement planning will need to be changed.  Why not simply presume that, at some point, you are going to get a huge windfall?  It makes retirement planning a heck of a lot easier.  (And it’s about as realistic as assuming that Social Security will be able to make monthly payments at current levels indefinitely to millions of long-lived Baby Boomer soon-to-be retirees.  But I digress.)

With the removal of the Mega Millions payout assumption, I need to look elsewhere for the wealth that will fund the fabulous, active retirement that is every American’s true birthright.  Recently, in doing some spring cleaning, I think I found my answer — in our travels, we’ve accumulated an impressive collection of foreign money.  Why, I have one piece of paper currency alone, with a picture of Ho Chi Minh on the front, with a face value of 20,000 dong.  20,000 dong!  If the exchange rate is even remotely favorable, that one bill alone should fund a year’s worth of Early Bird Specials at whatever restaurant caters to senior citizens at our ultimate retirement destination.

That’s not all, either.  I’ve got a 1 yuan bill with Mao’s picture on it, as well as Chinese coins.  Another bill reads 5 Wu Jiao and has a nice picture of two women wearing some traditional tribal costumes on it.  It’s probably Chinese currency, too.  China’s economy is doing great, so that hoard will be like an investment that will keep on growing.  I’ve got Euros, and Canadian change, and coins with holes through the middle and Asian writing on them.  Surely, all of those will be worth something, and will help to avoid times of want in my golden years.

As I go through the money, I found one game token that has “no cash value” stamped on it.  Oddly, it looks just like the other coins — made of metal, about the same weight and heft, minted with a picture on one side and numbers on the other.  I suppose you could conceivably confuse American currency with such worthless bits of metal or paper.  Fortunately, our money has the full faith and credit of the U.S. government behind it.  Thank goodness!

The Queen, The Hog, And The Coin

When Kish and I were in Bermuda we bought a soda, paid cash, and received some Bermuda coinage as change.  I took a look at the coins and was surprised to find that the bright copper Bermuda penny has the familiar likeness of Queen Elizabeth sporting a crown on one side and a hog on the other.

What’s up with that?  Why would a tony island like Bermuda, with its lovely “pink sand” beaches, iconic Bermuda shorts and knee socks, ubiquitous scooters, and proud British colonial heritage, feature a pig so prominently on its legal tender?

It turns out that hogs have a long and distinguished connection with Bermuda.  A sea voyager who was an early visitor to the Bermuda Triangle was shipwrecked with some live hogs in the hold.  The hogs made it to shore and, in a few years, their grunting, squealing descendants had spread throughout the island.  The hogs were so prolific that some who visited Bermuda came to know it as “Hogge Island.”  (Changing that name undoubtedly helped spur Bermuda’s tourism industry, by the way.)  Naturally, then, the first coins minted on Bermuda featured a hog on one side.  The current penny is a tribute to that initial coinage.

The eagle is our natural bird, of course, and it looks noble on our currency.  Canada’s coins properly feature the likes of the beaver and the maple leaf.  Given its important role in Bermuda’s history, the humble hog therefore is properly honored with a prominent place on the Bermuda one-cent piece.  You have to give the Queen credit for being willing to share a coin with a curly-tailed swine of the four-legged variety.  The people of Bermuda also seem proud of their hog penny.  Indeed, one of the most popular pubs in Hamilton is the Hog Penny Pub.