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Holten: The art of money

What do you most value in life and at the same time most often take for granted? It just might be the bills in your wallet. If this were 1865, for example, that might not be the case. Why? Because at the outbreak of the Civil War there were as ma...

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What do you most value in life and at the same time most often take for granted? It just might be the bills in your wallet.
If this were 1865, for example, that might not be the case. Why? Because at the outbreak of the Civil War there were as many as 1,600 different kinds of paper money in circulation in the United States and as much as one-third of that was counterfeit or worthless.
That could certainly complicate the life of a traveling salesman, couldn’t it?
And how would a national or global business like Wal-Mart or McDonalds conduct its business today if most of the shoppers who walked through their front door came in with a different kind of currency? Think about that.
Yes, if the situation was still the same today, the paper money in Bismarck might be different than the paper money used in Dickinson. So whenever you went to Bismarck, you might have to change your currency prior to buying yourself a simple thing like a Big Gulp, Grain Belt or espresso.
In 1861, Congress stepped up to the plate and authorized the printing of a national currency. I’m sure they’d wanted to do so earlier but those folks in the south that they called “Confederates” probably balked at the idea.
Then, in 1865, Honest Abe Lincoln established the Secret Service and ordered that agency to track down and arrest counterfeiters. Later, of course, the Secret Service was given the job of protecting the president. So isn’t it ironic that the creator of the Secret Service was himself assassinated?
Now, have you ever wondered who it is that decides what our paper money is going to look like? Is it Obama, Hillary or Joe Biden? No, it is none of the above.
Rather, it is the Secretary of the Treasury who selects the designs, but as with everything government-related, he or she has to comply with one main rule: The person whose portrait appears on a bill has to be dead. Or in other words, you have to be dead to qualify. So you may not want to put that on your immediate bucket list.
Now, there are some interesting facts you might not know about our paper money. For example, did you know that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing produces 38 million bills a day with a face value of approximately $541 million?
That seems like a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean 541 million new dollars flood the malls, taverns, car lots and bistros of America each day because, somehow, 95 percent of those new bills replace old bills already in circulation. I’m not sure how that happens, but I’m imagining little elves running around popping tills open in retail outlets everywhere and replacing old bills with new ones.
It’s also interesting to note that almost half of the bills printed each day are $1 bills and that the Independence Hall clock that appears on the $100 bill is set at 4:10. Why 4:10? Who knows?
Also, our paper money is not really made of paper at all, but of 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton. Which is why, if you have a wrinkled bill, you can iron it and make it look as good as new -- and I have done just that because I love crisp shirts and crisp bills. Don’t you?
Now get this, if you had $10 billion and spent $1 every second of every day, it would take you 317 years to go broke.
Of course, that sounds very impressive, but it really isn’t if you realize that your daily expenditures only add up to about $86,400 a day, which is probably what Donald Trump and Harold Hamm’s wife spend each day for lunch.
Still, when it comes to money, former President Thomas Jefferson might have said the smartest thing ever when he said, “Never spend your money before you have earned it.”
Seems like our entire socio-economic system forgot that rule a long time ago, doesn’t it?
Holten is the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Association. He writes a weekly column for The Press.

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