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Five Things You Need to Know: The U.S. Santa Claus Dollar Bill


A look at some of the bizarre images that once graced the dollar billl, cost-conscious clothing retailers trim fabrics, stretching time, and much more.


1. The U.S. Santa Claus Dollar Bill

Paper money has almost always been a part of American economic life, stretching as far back as Colonial times. While today we're accustomed to decorating our paper money with dead presidents, far and away the most common figures to appear on our currency (Ben Franklin being the obvious exception), that hasn't always been the case. Oh no. This fascinating bit of research from the Philadelphia Fed takes a look at some of the more bizarre symbols we've used throughout history to help lend our paper bills their gravitas, inspire trust and a sense of national unity.

The symbolism on American paper money, all paper money, is no joke. Actually, it's critical. Take out a dollar bill and ask a child what it means to her. Watch her puzzle over the fact that people are so eager to trade goods and services for pieces of paper. Try to explain to her why this exchange occurs, what each bill means, why two bills of identical content and size, differentiated only by a man's face and a number, can signify vast differences in value. It really doesn't make much sense. Aware of this, symbolism on money has always been of great importance. Our founding fathers knew this.

Prior to the conclusion of the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, a committee which included John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin was appointed to create the seal that would appear on American money and symbolize this new country's values and ideals. No problem, right? After all, surely these guys shared a definitive direction for such a seal. Not quite. It took six years before a final proposal was submitted and accepted by Congress.

This is their now familiar final product:

The unfinished pyramid and great eye above it, along with the Latin phrase "Novus Ordo Seclorum" for New Order of the Ages, represent the great knowledge bestowed upon mankind by our interplanetary brethren who arrived via spaceships to help us build the pyramids, and who continue to watch over us with great vigilance as we work toward a New World Order when a select group of alien-designated global elite families will ultimately seize control of the planet, enslaving the rest of us to help harvest the natural resources here the aliens require to maintain their own planet's life. Haha. I'm kidding! Who knows why the aliens need our natural resources? But seriously, some batshit crazy people out there really believe that kind of stuff. (Read the Philadelphia Fed piece to find out what the symbols really mean.)

Before our current paper money with its many recognizable symbols was created, early American money relied on a variety of strange and bizarre symbols, especially notes issues by private banks. Here are a few of the more outlandish symbols to appear on money:

This was an 1850s era note issued by Windham bank:

Hey man, why the crazy frogs? Apparently, the reference is to an incident around the time of the French and Indian War where two Windham men were startled one night by terrifying noises they assumed were some kind of battle cry and imminent attack. The noises turned out to be thousands of dead and dying frogs, which many people no doubt took to be a sign that the world would soon be coming to an end (just like today).

The image below is from another circa 1850s note:

Pittsfield Banker 1: What about frogs?
Pittsfield Banker 2: Nah, Windham Bank uses frogs.
Pittsfield Banker 1: A mummy?
Pittsfield Banker 2: Too scary.
Pittsfield Banker 1: ...
Pittsfield Banker 2: Hey, what about Santa Claus?
Pittsfield Banker 1: Santa?
Pittsfield Banker 2: He's jolly and friendly, just like us!

One more. This one is from the great Republic of Texas!

Texas Banker: Look, I don't want none of that Santa Claus crap like they use up in Pittsfield.
Designer: Ok. No Santa Claus.
Texas Banker: This is Texas.
Designer: Texas.
Texas Banker: Draw me up something with a battleship.
Designer: A battleship.
Texas Banker: And try to work in a naked lady on there somewhere.

2. Let's Just Call Them a Few Bad Names and Leave it at That

According to Bloomberg, the Securities and Exchange Commission is about to back away from any costly, time consuming and most likely embarrassing lawsuits against former Lehman Brothers executives and instead issue a rare report of investigation or 21(a) report.

What's a 21(a) report?
It's where the SEC lays out allegations of misconduct without imposing any penalties!

The public rebuke is "about the least harmful sanction anybody could get," Duke University law professor James Cox told Bloomberg.

Who gets 21(a) reports?
Not many. It's rare.

Moody's Investors Services (Aug. 31, 2010)
JP Morgan (JPM) (Mar. 18, 2010)
Retirement Systems of Alabama (March 5, 2008)
NASDAQ, NASD (Feb. 9, 2005)
Motorola (MOT) (Nov. 25, 2002)
W.R. Grace (GRA) (Sep. 30, 1997)
Board of Supervisors, Orange County CA (Jan. 24, 1996)

3. Cost-Cutting Hits the Fashion World

Apparel makers are tweak clothing designs to manage surging cotton and labor costs, according to this article from Bloomberg/BusinessWeek.

"When Gap (GPS) was forced to slash its 2011 profit forecast by 22 percent on May 19, Chief Executive Officer Glenn Murphy blamed soaring cotton and labor costs. Retailers from Target (TGT) to Family Dollar Stores (FDO) have cited similar margin-squeezing pressures," the article notes. I liked this line: "Retailers realize that they don't have much pricing power with budget-conscious consumers these days."

4. What Are They Saying?

A brief survey of interesting nuggets from corporate earnings calls and conference presentations this week:

Restarting the Foreclosure Process

Bank of America (BAC) CEO Brian Moynihan at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference:

"The other big issue in mortgage is the operating side. And this is both an effort and an opportunity. An effort in meaning that we've built up this thirty some thousand people who will modify 60,000 loans in the first quarter alone, have restarted the foreclosure process, work every day through the 1 million, 1.5 million 60-day plus delinquent customers we have, working them through the system and working to either get them recover or through modification, or on the last event, foreclosure. That operational effort is huge."

People Don't Trade Down at McDonald's. Hahaha.

McDonald's (MCD) CEO James Skinner at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference:

"Our guest counts continue to grow. We are appealing to our consumers, particularly through everyday affordability, but a lot of people talk about the fact that people are trading down. They don't trade down at McDonald's. They're trading into McDonald's."

The Desire to Become Predictive

IBM (IBM) SVP/Group Executive: Software: Steven Mills at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Technology Conference:

"[T]he analytics side has picked up a lot of momentum over the last couple of years. And that's being driven by a number of factors. I think that there is a desire to become predictive. Branded companies have always spent money on various aspects of report writing, and a certain amount of analysis, but they're redoubling their efforts in this area, because they want to become predictive or they want to deal with aspects of risk and become more certain that they're placing their risk in the right spots."

5. Stretching Time

Fascinating blog post on time that was passed along to me by Minyan Enn who recalled that the concept of time is of great interest to me.

"Psychological time is how long time feels. Although we normally equate psychological time and actual time, glitches in our brain show this isn't actually the case," writes Scott H. Young. "If time accelerates in routine, it should slow down with novelty."

Follow Kevin Depew on Twitter: @kevindepew

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