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Monday, July 25, 2011

Wallet Art

The fifty-dollar bill of the recent past, designed in 1929
It would seem that a vast majority of Americans find it pretty easy to simply ignore any impact art has upon them until it hits them in the wallet. Then they sit up and take notice, and become instant critics.  I'm not talking here about everyone suddenly going out and buying artwork. (Though that would be nice.) No, what I'm referring to is the works of art we put into our wallets; and try our best to collect so we may someday kick back and enjoy the comfort of knowing we have an outstanding portrait collection of distinguished Americans to admire as we grow old. Recently though, with the advent of ever more accurate photocopying technology, many of these fine examples of the etcher's art have become prone to forgery. Therefore, a new addition is now circulating to make this less of problem.

The current (new) fifty-dollar bill from 2004
The instant critics I mentioned before, however, seem not to care much for these new, rare, limited edition prints. I've got a fifty (seldom can I hold onto anything bigger). An even greater outcry was heard a some eighty years ago when the currency of the time was downsized slightly to what we have now.The most common comment I've heard about the new bills is that they tend to look like "play money". They've also been called everything from bland to "butt-ugly." (Oh, how some Americans hate change.) Personally, I like the new look. In fact, I tend to take offense at the "butt-ugly" description that's been bandied about. I've seen several butts that are a good deal uglier than our new currency (though in fairness, I've seen some that are cuter too, and of course, U.S. Grant is no raving beauty). I find the layout of the new bills clean, rational, and modern looking, yet with a certain traditional elegance as. They have a contemporary simplicity of design which, unfortunately I think, is what upsets people about them.

An earlier fifty-dollar bill dating from 1891.
That's the face of William H. Seward
(Lincoln's Secretary of State)
I would liken today's currency critics to those who think American automobile design reached its zenith with 1957 Chevrolet and has been going downhill ever since. A few years ago, I heard jokes about the "jelly bean" look of so many of today's cars. Initially, that is. But, in the last few years, as our eyes have become accustomed to such sweeping, streamlined works of art, and all but the most recalcitrant manufactures have adopted similar looks, the jokes have kind of petered out.  We've begun to look upon the boxy models of the 70's and 80's (Chrysler's "K" cars for instance) as hopelessly dull and clunky. I think the same will be the case with the new money once we become accustomed to these sweeping, streamlined works of art in our wallets. And, for those who prefer the old bills, they can always start a collection of them and wallow in their nostalgia for a good deal less than the cost of a fully-restored '57 Chevy.

A proposed fifty-dollar
bill as part of a totally
revamped 21st Century
US currency
Note: As photocopy technology continues to advance at a rapid clip, so must the designs for circulating currency so long as paper money remains in vogue.  At right is a proposed design for a future revamping of all US currency, this time with a vertical format (in that money is generally handled vertically).

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