Money Talks — But What Does It Say?

Money Talks But What Does It Say?What does your money say? Of course, most of the time, we’re more concerned with what money can buy – and what various institutions like the Federal Reserve and the megabanks are doing with it. But a country’s history, culture and values are written on the coins and bills it keeps in circulation. Case in point: the lowly US dollar bill, which contains in its often-misunderstood symbols and slogans the dreams and aspirations of its founders.

The images and words that appear on paper and metal money aren’t static. They change over time to accommodate new circumstances – and political conditions. US currency alone has undergone several permutations as a result of the country’s changing configurations and events like the Civil War. And in other parts of the world, new money commemorates changing regimes and leaders.

Money Talks In Symbols and Slogans

Because money acts as a kind of shorthand for what the issuing country stands for, every image and word printed or stamped on stands as a symbol with layers of deeper meanings behind it. And as those meanings become hazy with time, the symbols themselves can take on entirely new meanings their creators never intended.

Most officially circulated currency carries at least the image of a prominent individual, a motto or slogan, and a symbol representing what the country stands for. Beyond that, money can carry a variety of images and slogans.

Take the dollar, for example. The greenback and its cousins the bigger denominations are recognized around the world. Everybody knows who’s on the bill – George Washington  – but what done the other parts of the dollar represent?

Seals, Symbols and Portraits

Franklin wasn’t always on the bill, though. Back in the 1860s, the face on the dollar bill was actually that of Salmon P. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury. And at that time there were actually several currencies in circulation as the Confederacy printed its own money and Texas declared itself a Republic with its own money too.

Those things aside, though, the key elements of American money haven’t changed too much since their creation not long after the country was born. And those mysterious symbols that raise the specter of black magic and Satanism were the brainchild of a designer inspired by the poetry of Virgil and the history of Egypt.

The face of the dollar, like other denominations, has a Treasury Seal. It consists of a scale, representing balance, a chevron with 13 stars for the 13 original colonies and a key symbolizing official authority. Until 10996 each banknote carried a Federal Reserve Bank designator that indicated where it was produced. Now, only the dollar and $2 bills carry this unique designator, a letter that proclaims the bill’s origin. Larger denominations simply carry the general Federal Reserve System Seal.

The Great Seal: Eagle and Pyramid

The dollar bill and others also carry the Great Seal of the United States – complex creation consisting o an eagle and an unfinished pyramid.

The eagle’s meaning is pretty clear – but even at that, its symbolism has stirred some controversy. The Eagle of course represents freedom and independence, soaring high and strong. There’s a shield on its chest, covered with the red, white and blue stripes and stars we’re familiar with: thirteen stars for the original colonies and blue for justice, white for purity and red for valor.

This eagle bears thirteen arrows in its left talon, representing war, and an olive branch in the right representing peace. But it’s the other part of the seal, with its mysterious eye atop a pyramid, that fuels speculation of darker meanings.

What does an unfinished pyramid with an all seeing eye on top say about the country? This symbol on the Seal, along with its inscription, “Novis Ordo Seclorum,” – “New World Order” — has fueled speculation about Masonic influences, alchemy and even Satanic references. But according to Charles Thompson, who designed the Seal in 1782, the truth is more mundane.

The pyramid, deliberately left undone, was meant to symbolize strength and duration. While that may call for a stretch of the imagination, the all seeing eye, said to represent watchful Providence, is clearer. And the inscription, inspired by Virgil, was meant to indicate that the birth of the country introduced a new direction into the world – not world domination.

The dollar and its relatives in the higher denominations have been redesigned and refurbished from time to time. Colors have changed slightly and the relative prominence of various elements has shifted. The symbols and messages on the greenback may have been misunderstood and even maligned, and its fortunes go up and down in the world’s money markets. But still it bears on its printed face keys to the early days of the country – and the vision its founders had for the future.  (Featured Image:Flickr/imagesofmoney)

Read more from The American Monetary Association:

AMA 90: Work the System with Sam Carpenter

AMA91: America’s Forum with J. D. Hayworth

Carla and The American Monetary Association Team

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