11.09.07 |

Submission: Moneytheism Book Project
Website: http://www.staplecrop.com

There is perhaps nothing that we exchange more as tangible objects than currency.

For the first 6 years of my life my family lived in a suburban neighborhood, complete with two cul-de-sacs. In our neighborhood lived a woman who saved up pennies throughout the year and offered them up by handfuls to children each Halloween. I’m sure it could never have been more than 20 cents to a small 5 year old hand, but 20 was more than I had had when I set out. Unlike the bag of treats I’d tote around the rest of the evening, the peanut butter black and orange or the Hershey’s Special Dark which I detested, I could trade the 20 cents in for sweets that I actually wanted; there was still a dime store.

The toothfairy was comparable; it moved me from copper with its miniscule Lincoln sitting in his monument into silver. The complex ability to conceive that something the size of a quarter held just as much promise as 25 copper pieces, and to marvel that a dime is even smaller than a penny!

Receiving money was an annual event. Each year a birthday card from my grandmother would include a five-dollar bill. A five-dollar bill as an eight-year-old was seemingly incomprehensible, whereas a five-dollar bill to an 18 year old became more like a cherished object from a grandmother who wouldn’t be around much longer; I even stopped spending them. Their worth as an object subsumed their monetary worth like the bicentennial quarters that are worth more than 25 cents and the strange 2 dollar bills which no one seems to know what to do with.

Somewhere around my early teens, was the first Christmas that I received a hundred dollar bill in lieu of gifts from my dad. It wasn’t a gesture of his not being able to come up with an idea for a gift (though I’m sure that had something to do with ease), but it was a perfect gift. Having a hundred dollar bill made me wonder if anything could be so important or needed as to break it up into pieces where every fragment becomes more apt to be spent.

Living for awhile in Antwerp, Belgium, in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, it took me awhile to realize that I was to offer my money on the tray set out for me on the counter and then expect it back in the same manner; contactless. In New Zealand the paper money is plastic; it doesn’t keep a fold well, melts and shrinks if heated and is seemingly another step away from real. In terms of worth however, it is just as abstract as the pulpy variety. On a recent trip to Japan I marveled at their presenting change to me formally, with both hands, as if what I was being returned was somehow special or a gesture instead of something that I was owed. There are significant moments around this exchange; at a drive-through window where fingers and palms touch, or where wishes are made at a fountain or a well or where luck begins by finding coins on the ground.

Paper currency, so very intricate visually, is dulled by use. Not dulled in the sense of the imagery losing its crispness or the loss of meaning, but dulled in the sense that the design becomes bland and ordinary, commonplace. There is such an absentminded trust at work when utilizing the currency of our day to day lives that when traveling, there is always a moment back in the hotel room where I empty my pockets, sit on the side of the bed and look at what I’ve been spending. Fanning out the often multi-colored bills, I marvel at the fine lines, the micro-printing, the watermarks, the engraved famous face captured in a particular way, the language used, the denomination and attempt to translate that amount back into something familiar. I reduce the appealing design back into my comforting dull. Attempting to do, what I did as a child; make a dime worth more than a penny.

In addition to this text, designs for new international currency denominations done by students from my second-year integration graphic’s class were submitted.

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