Thursday, August 26, 2010

Buck The Greenback?

During my random searches of the Internet, I came across this interesting project seeking a redesign for the American Dollar. Granted, replacing our currency would be a huge pain in the rear and add more uncertainty to a market that doesn't need it, but some of these designs are pretty impressive. Two particularly good designs pointed out by Heather are by Michael Tyznik and Dan Swenson. Swenson's $100 is gorgeous. The lines in the background (I'm not an artist and so have no idea what term to use there) give the impression of being in a glass building which generates an amazing effect with John Trumbull's "Signing of the Declaration of Independence." This image of an event that occurred 230+ years ago appears remarkably modern with that backdrop and I do not need to explain the symbolism there.

Tyznick's design includes Amendments from the Bill of Rights on the reverse of every bill. I very much like the idea of putting some statement of American ideals on our money apart from our Latin motto and "In God We Trust" but these Amendments are a bit clunky. They are also paired with American Presidents and politicians who did not create those Amendments, which might lead to unnecessary confusion with an audience not particularly well informed concerning history.

I have little to no artistic skills. Any design I actually tried to create would probably end up looking like this. That being said, I am curious: if we were to redesign our paper money, what should we put on it? I would like to see individuals beyond politicians, but very solid Americans would have to be chosen in such a way as to not generate controversy and not appear to be token appreciations to minorities. There are also a hell of a lot of choices to choose from, both for the individual on the obverse and the image on the reverse. I would like to see dollar bills generally following the Tyznick/Swenson model (Swenson being inspired by Tyznick's design) with the following figure, image, and quote on these denominations:

$1: George Washington/Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze/"The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth." Thomas Paine, Common Sense

$2: Clara Barton/Bald Eagle/"God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it. " Daniel Webster

$5: Abraham Lincoln/Lincoln Monument/"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in"~Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address

$10: John Paul Jones/USS Constitution/"I have not yet begun to fight"

$20: Frederick Douglass/Statue of Liberty/"The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous." Frederick Douglass

$50: Ralph Waldo Emerson/Grand Canyon (not sure which image of it would work best on a dollar bill)/"The best moments in life are these delicious awakenings of the higher powers, and the reverential withdrawing of nature before its God." ~Emerson, "Nature"

$100: Benjamin Franklin/Signing of the Declaration of Independence (basically Swenson)/"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"

I really wanted to add Henry David Thoreau but I can't imagine him being happy about being on a dollar bill. I've also avoided using anyone within the last 100 or so years. This isn't a slam on them; there have been a hell of a lot of great Americans in that time period. When I think of money, though, I think those who appear should be almost mythical in their stature. In terms of actual people, time is really needed to establish that. Putting more modern faces inevitably leads to propaganda and controversy, which is about the last thing we need concerning our money. The Romans used to put images of Roma (the god personifying Rome) and other deities on their coins up until the collapse of the Republic, when they switched to the faces of current politicians instead.

Having attempted to create such a list, I can say it is a lot harder than one might imagine. I can certainly imagine some of the criticisms that would come my way for proposing this list. With such a minimal amount of space on seven separate types of bills, something important will inevitably be left off. If for no other reason, that seems like enough to not actually rework the subject matter of our dollar bills for the time being.

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