By David G. Firestone
One of the big issues in American sports is the national anthem. Many NFL and NBA players have made the bold decision to not stand during the National Anthem because of the recent police-involved shootings of unarmed African-Americans. In the words one one player: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder”
This issue seemed to be dying down in recent weeks, until The President made an inflammatory speech concerning the matter, which reignited the issue, and kicked the protests into high gear. This last week, so many players were protesting his remarks, that it has become a major news story. Since then, a number of NASCAR teams have stated that there is no tolerance for disrespecting the flag during the national anthem. I’ll get to that part in a little bit, but I need to discuss why a lot of people are upset about these protests.
There is a major disconnect between those who support the protests, and those who think the players are acting selfishly, or those who are offended by their actions. I’m going to state one of the more reasonable arguments against them. I’m doing this because I’m of the belief that you should learn the reasons why people who disagree with you believe what they believe. When you do that, you grow as a person, and you may learn something about yourself.
I’m not going to waste my time on white racists, since they don’t deserve my time. Instead, I’m going to focus on military members, veterans, and their families. I’ve always supported the troops. I have the utmost respect for those who have served in the Armed Forces. My grandfather was one of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy during D-Day. I’ve also, like a lot of educated people, realized that you can support the troops themselves without always supporting what they are fighting for.
In the minds of a lot of active duty military members, veterans, and families of deceased military members, the players’ actions are not so much an attempt to make America better, but his actions are disrespecting a country that means more to them than anyone else. For those who served in Germany and Japan, for those who served in Vietnam, for those who served in Iraq, and Afghanistan, Their actions across as a slap in the face. For those who have lost friends, comrades, and family members, their action come across as selfish.
I can’t, in all sincerity, dismiss the opinions of someone who fought for our country. I can’t dismiss the opinions of a parent who has had to bury their child, a soldier who died fighting for a country that, flawed as it is, that solider believed in. I can’t dismiss the opinion of a solider who has lost friends and comrades in battle. To them, the players’ actions are opening up wounds, and bringing back pain.
Now I need to discuss why NASCAR teams are saying what they are about these protests. Like it or not, NASCAR’s fan base is overwhelmingly conservative. Not all fans are, but a lot of fans are. They are also highly patriotic. They are proud to be American, and they don’t care who knows it. As such, most of NASCAR’s fan base will overwhelmingly react negatively if there are anthem protests. Fans drive the sport in NASCAR, so this is not a minor issue. Above and beyond that, NASCAR is non union, so drivers and teams have little protection. If a driver or crew member were to protest, said driver or crew member could and would be fired on the spot. This has been used to keep drivers in line, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is used to prevent protests.
I’m not going to force my opinions on what the right answer is. I just wanted to give perspective to help people pop the bubbles of ignorance they live in, on one side or the other. These are real reasons, and things to think about.
For the season finale of season 16, we will examine currency in its various forms, including pure gold, coins, bank notes, and coin dies.
A series of items rescued from shipwrecks will be examined this week.
Going off topic today. I have always been interested in shipwrecks. I don’t know why, but the idea of the remains of a ship, and its contents lying on the bottom of the sea just fascinates me, as it does a lot of people. In fact, shipwreck memorabilia is an interesting hobby, as it is interesting to hold something that has spent decades at the bottom of the sea in your hands.
The most common shipwreck memorabilia are coins. Business and sailing were one in the same for many years, as companies made and shipped goods for sale all over the world, and the ships came back with large amounts of coins. When the unthinkable happened, and the ship sank, these coins were lost to the bottom of the sea, until recently, when the ability to dive down and explore these ships has become much more commonplace. Divers love to explore shipwrecks, and they will find items from the time, and bring them back to the service, either for their own collection, or to sell to other. These are examples of shipwrecked coins.
The Dutch East India company was founded on March 20, 1602, and the first company to sell stock in themselves. They were heavily involved in the spice trade, at one point having a monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. While profitable for a while, it was a corrupt venture, so much so, it ceased to exist on December 31, 1799. The ships used were known as “Dutch East Indiaman.” These are coins from the Dutch East Indiaman Merestein, which sank off which sank off the coast of Southern Africa in 1702. They spent over 260 years underwater, when they were discovered and recovered in the 1970’s. They still have silt on them from their time at the bottom.
Admiral Alan Gardner, 1st Baron Gardner was a career sailor in the British Royal Navy. He is well known for negotiating during the Mutiny at Spithead in 1797, and introducing lemon juice to prevent scurvy. He had a East Indiaman named after him, which was built in 1796, and sank on the Goodwin Sands in 1809. There were a large amount of coins which were stored in tightly sealed barrels on board. They were recovered in 1986, and examples like these two, were sold to the general public. They were mounted in plastic containers with nice graphics, and the back story of the Admiral Gardner. They also came with COA’s.
Moving away from coins, we move to this item from the SS Larchmont. The SS Larchmont was built in 1885 at Bath, Maine. It was a 252 foot long steamer that sailed from New York to Providence, Rhode Island. February 11, 1907, Larchmont collided with the Harry P. Knowles in a blizzard, and sank in 10 minutes. Between 10 and 19 people of the over 200 people on board survived. This brass item was pulled from the wreck site, and has been mounted to a wooden base with a brass plaque on it. I’m not sure what exactly it is.
No other shipwreck is as well known and has inspired so much intrigue as the Titanic. Launched in 1912, and ironically, despite the fact that it was lauded as being “unsinkable,” it sank during its first voyage. While the ship and most of the heavier items sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, lighter items, such as wooden items floated and drifted for a while. This small sliver of wood was found during the search for survivors.
In 1985, Jean-Louis Michel of IFREMER and Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found the wreckage of the Titanic at the bottom of the sea. Since his initial discovery, many artifacts have been recovered, including this piece of coal, which was sold at the Titanic artifact exhibition tour.
Next week, we look at a remnant from a once-promising career.
A set of lottery tickets from the 1800’s, and a drawing used lottery ball is the feature of this week’s episode.
Last week, I discussed coins, and their history. The history of bank notes, or bills, is no less interesting. We spend our lives working to get bank notes, but we don’t often think about how they came to be. We tend to do that with most inventions. Interestingly, bank notes have an interesting history.
The first government to issue bank notes was the Song Dynasty in China. The Song Dynasty, in the early 11th century, allowed 16 different banks to print up the first bank notes. This was done because copper coinage is much heavier than a bank note, and that copper production was declining. Once the Song Dynasty realized the advantages of bank notes, they took over production of the notes in 1023. By the 1200’s, most Dynasties were using some form of paper bank note.
Around the 13th Century, Marco Polo and other European explorers made their way into Asia, and began to encounter paper bank notes. Polo was especially interested in these notes, stating chapter 24 in The Travels of Marco Polo:
“All these pieces of paper are, issued with as much solemnity and authority as if they were of pure gold or silver… with these pieces of paper, made as I have described, Kublai Khan causes all payments on his own account to be made; and he makes them to pass current universally over all his kingdoms and provinces and territories, and whithersoever his power and sovereignty extends… and indeed everybody takes them readily, for wheresoever a person may go throughout the Great Kaan’s dominions he shall find these pieces of paper current, and shall be able to transact all sales and purchases of goods by means of them just as well as if they were coins of pure gold.”
This system was seen as effective way to transport currency from one country to another, with little confusion as to exchange rates. These early notes were not true bank notes, but were promissory notes. The note was an instruction to the bank to pay the person holding the note the amount in gold or silver. As time went on, the banks began preferring to issue bank notes as currency, and governments soon followed. For a time, there were both governments and private banks were issuing their own notes. Private banks were eventually banned from issuing their own notes as currency, and the government bank notes became the standard.
In the United States, the Federal Government is in charge of printing bank notes, though this was not always the case. The Coinage Act of 1792 specified a “dollar” to be based in the Spanish milled dollar and of 371 grains and 4 sixteenths part of a grain of pure or 416 grains (27.0g) of standard silver and an “eagle” to be 247 and 4 eighths of a grain or 270 grains (17g) of gold (again depending on purity). This was based on the Spanish Dollar, which was in use in many of the Colonies at that time. This had its drawbacks, as at the time, all 13 Colonies were each using a different state-specific currency. Each currency defined the value of a dollar differently. This system was used until 1862, when, because of The Civil War, banknotes attached to gold or silver, called gold certificates or silver certificates were issued. These could be exchanged for a set amount of gold or silver.
American bank notes are made with a special paper, which uses scrap cotton from the denim jeans industry. This helps with durability. Granted a coin will have a useful life of 30 years, whereas a bank note will have a useful life of 22 months. The paper itself is made by Crane and Company of Dalton Massachusetts, who have made this special paper since 1879. Blue jean scraps make up 75% of the material in the paper, with the other 25% being waste flax. The process is painstaking. The steps to make the paper itself, including reductions, security threads, and security strips are very exacting. The paper is then rolled into rolls and shipped.
The paper then goes to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in either Washington D.C. Or Fort Worth Texas. The paper is cut into uniform squares, and printed using the Intaglio printing method, first used in Germany in the 1430’s. A simplified explanation of the process is that the dies that have the reverse image of the bill are filled with ink. Excess ink is removed, and the design is stamped into the bill. The ink fills all the small crevices of the die. This gives the bank note a textured feel to it, due to the different layers of ink.
While the United States has had a somewhat stable currency since the Civil War, some other countries were not as fortunate. Germany, for example, went through a lot of upheaval in the 20th Century. Prior to World War I, The German Gold Mark was the banknote Germans used. Produced in denominations of 20, 50, 100 and 1000 Mark, the bank notes are quite large, especially compared to American notes, as this 1000 Mark example from 1910 shows: The German Gold Mark was replaced in 1914, by the German Papiermark. This decision was because the link between the gold reserves and the mark was abandoned. By the end of the War in 1918, the German Papiermark was nearly worthless, due to the German loss, and insistence of Germany to pay back war debts by printing and using bank notes. The Rentenmark replaced the Papiermark as such, due to hyper inflation. It was replaced with the Reichsmark, prior to World War 11, and then the East German Mark, and Deutsche Mark from War’s end to 1990, when Germany was reunited, and the Deutsche Mark took over from 1990, until 2002, when the Euro took over as currency for Germany and much of Europe.
Another country that had a lot of economic upheaval was Russia. The Ruble is the traditional currency of Russia, and like other currencies, were made of gold or silver. The amount of metal per coin varied, until Peter The Great standardized the amount of silver in 1704. By 1768, banknotes were being printed, by the Assignation Bank. This lasted until 1843, when the Assignation Bank folded, and “state credit notes” were issued by the government.
The old system lasted until the October Revolution of 1917, when the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic took over as government, and began circulating their own version of the ruble. The first version, which was used until 1922, had to be adjusted for post-war, non-gold standard hyperinflation after World War I. In 1922, the second version was instituted, this version having a rate of 1 “new” ruble for 10,000 “old” rubles, due to hyperinflation. The third change took place in 1923, at a rate of 100 to 1. This lasted until 1924, when Joesph Stalin’s consolidation of power following the death of Lenin, and Stalin issued the fourth version of the Soviet Ruble, which was attached to the gold standard, and lasted through 1947, when the fifth version, which was issued in response to citizens selling wartime rations for a profit, and keeping the money for themselves. This was placed on amounts over 3,000 rubles.
These are examples of the sixth version, used from 1961 to 1991. These brand new bank notes were designed by arists Victor Tsigal, and had a gold exchange rate of one ruble for 0.987412 gram of gold, though the gold was never offered to the general public. These are the 1, 3, 5, 10, and 25 ruble bills from 1961, the first year of issue. Bank notes, like coins have different sizes, These are the scale designs of the different bank notes I have discussed. I have to say that given recent trends, which emphasize anti-counterfeiting measures as opposed to aesthetic design, I hate United States Currency. This is the front and back of the current design, first used in 2006. This is the front and back from a $5 1953. This is the front and back of a $5 bill from 1928. This is the front and back of a $5 bill from 1896, and from 1891, 1880, and 1862. It’s amazing how much better the bill gets, the older it is. I understand that anti-counterfeiting measures are a requirement in this day in age, but can we at least make them pleasant to look at?
Next week, we will return to auto racing, with a historic piece of Funny Car memorabilia…stay tuned.