legal tender

by Art Chantry (

is this what the right wing conservative movement – the ‘tea party’ and the ron paul conservatives – really want? look closely. this is called (for some reason i don’t understand) “college currency”. that term is applied to a whole category of collecting and a definition of a type of ‘money’. what it refers to are all the OTHER old currencies we used to use in the past. yeah, we didn’t always have a single uniform monetary system in this country. in fact we still don’t, really (if you count food stamps and credit scrip and stocks, credit cards, etc as ‘currency’).

---and they LITERALLY cut up coins sometimes back then. they didn't have computers to do it for them.---Read More:

but, this category of money generally refers back to the olden days. please note what this thing sez: “one sixth of a spanish mill’d dollar: or the value thereof in gold or silver to be given in exchange at a treasury of virginia pursuant to act of assembly, may 5, 1777.” also note at the bottom “DEATH TO COUNTERFEIT”. whoa!

this was virginia money even a full year AFTER we declared ourselves a sovereign nation. we still even relied upon spanish currency (gold & silver coins, in this case) to define actual value. (by the way, the “milled” phrase refers to that ridged edge that coins have . that’s called ‘milling’. it’s there so that cheats don’t shave off some of the gold or or silver from a coin to collect into unearned profits. thus ‘shaving dollars’ is a term ‘coined’ by this practice.)

this is what paper money used to be like back then and even on up into very near the 20th century, when we finally established a banking system based on one single agreed-upon currency system – the greenback we all know and love so damn much (our real state religion). prior to that there was a lotta chaos.

i have a book – a two inch THICK collector catalog book – that is full of thousands and thousands of images of various forms of college currency. it’s really astonishing how much of this was going on. each state had their own ‘money’. often each bank had their own ‘money.’ businesses had ‘money’. even enterprising individuals issued their own ‘money’. then there were those radicals (like the confederacy) who attempted to begin a new country on what was thought to be american soil. churches even issued currency.

of course, the federal government kept trying to issue functioning currency over and over. even official federal money went through amazingly weird permutations over the centuries. this ‘greenback’ we cherish is a really very recent design. money even used to even be physically MUCH larger in size and we had to fold it up to fit it in our “purses” (as wallets were called back then.) but none of this stuff is considered ‘college’ currency. it only refers to the OTHER money in use.

so, something that is as agreed upon on the ‘US dollar’ is very very impermanent and fleeting. all you folks stuffing them in your mattress may want to switch to something a little more solid, ya know? (talk to glenn beck about it.) tomorrow it may be just paper. if you look at the wishes of the extreme radical right, it may be sooner than you think. if even a small portion of their ideas get institutionalized, it may become open season on the value of our mutually agreed upon currency. i can easily see a day when goldman/sacks-issued money may compete head-on with our national currency – and have more CREDIBILITY! we really need to be cautious here. it could easily become chaos again.

and think of how easy it would be to counterfeit this stuff?!?! man, it could be bad.

which brings me around to our new current money designs. we all hate the stuff, right? it looks like monopoly

ey (i saw a cartoon that pointed out that the color scheme of each bill actually matches the color scheme of monopoly money. it’s astonishing, really, it’s so dead on). every thing about the new ‘graphic design’ right down to the quality of the new engraved presidential portrait is clumsy and awkward and, well, cheezy looking. it just don’t look like MONEY any more. am i right?

there is a reason for this. in the past, money was designed by engravers and printers. even this college currency i show you here – as crude as it is (a wood cut done by hand) at least LOOKS like money, ya know? there was an agreed-upon standard that evolved through actual DOING that reached a consensus of what money looks like. all that tradition is what went into the actual design of the old greenback dollar (the one we tossed out). this is how graphic design at it’s best actually works – it’s designed by ALL of us through a long period of time. no one ‘great man’ genius designer sat down and created it from scratch (drawing from their precious artistic ‘muse’). instead we all worked on it together without even knowing it.

the new money we are using now is the first time in our nation’s history that our currency was not created by engravers and printers and craftsmen of the old traditions. it was created for the FIRST TIME EVER by GRAPHIC DESIGNERS! and that is why it sucks. because our recent generations of graphic designers have totally lost track of what the profession is and how it works. they were all taught that this is ART and not craft. every time they sit at their screens, they think they can re-invent the wheel with a whim. they think they are “new and fresh” and “breaking the rules”, etc. but if you don’t know any rules, how can you claim to be breaking any? that’s just ignorance – it’s stupid.

the very definitions of what we do as graphic designers are established by hundreds of years of practice and cultural assessments and mutual agreement – stuff you never get taught in a university computer design program. you just can’t pick up a software program and start being a real ‘graphic designer’. you can FAKE it and do stuff that looks just like graphic design – good enough to fool everybody. but eventually, the ignorance of history and tradition and actual practice (the illiteracy of graphic language) begins to leak through and we all look at the stuff we see and all we take in is emptiness, a vacuum where there used to be ideas that we all shared. it’s an abstract process that you have to be fully aware of and a master of the language before you can really DO it. you can’t be sarah palin and just bullshit your way through it forever. eventually, the boat will leak and it sinks like a stone.

today, we all have these wonderful magic boxes – these extraordinary tools. but, that’s all they are – a tool, just like a hammer is a tool. it’s a wonderful, beautifully made solid gold diamond encrusted hammer, but it’s still just a hammer. and just because you have a solid gold hammer does NOT mean that you automatically become an architect. that building you create with that hammer will very likely fall down. catch my drift?


AC: but, that is what a ‘gold standard’ creates. gold is the currency and whatever scrip you create that is supposedly “worth gold” is therefore negotiable. and the race is off! think about it. we need a government controlled (by law and punishment) standard or everything becomes DIY. if we intentionally collapse the economy (like the right wing has been saying they wanted for decades – ‘starve the beast”) then we go back to a ron paul gold standard and everybody starts to fend for themselves. good luck with that….

…i really don’t buy into the fantasy that people regulate themselves any better than a elected federal government does. in all honesty, i have even less respect for individual moral standards than for organized moral standards (which are incredibly low from what i can see). but, people just ain’t no good. we need SOME standards by which to regulate us – even crummy ones. total DIY means chaos (which may be fun for a while but can become a disaster real fast). and ‘states’ be damned….

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