|August Saint-Gaudens $20 gold piece|
It was Napoleon who said, "If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna."
Meaning, don't be half-assed. Don't do things part way. Finish the job.
Like the U.S. Treasury Department taking Andrew Jackson off the front of the $20 bill and, in the same smooth motion, putting him on the back.
Weenies. Really. If we wake up one day and we're a province of China, it'll be because we're not bold enough to change the person on our currency every century.
Jackson has been on the twenty since 1928.
I should show my hand here.
I was a coin collector, which means also a currency collector, a little.
That might sound timid, but you need guts to collect coins.
To be a coin collector is to despair for America, a little.
Because we not only know how far we lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to putting something of beauty in our pockets.
We also know how we fail to match our own legacy from eras gone by.
We weren't always like this.
Changing the twenty now made me think of another time when we changed the twenty—the $20 gold piece, that is. Teddy Roosevelt was president.
"I think our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness," he wrote to the treasury
|$10 gold piece|
I'm not one of those complaining that Tubman somehow isn't worthy—she does seem a bit of a flat historical figure at this point, veiled in semi-myth, like Johnny Appleseed. But that could be my own ignorance of her history. She was a real person, who did real acts of heroism to free slaves, and I get the need to nod in the direction of women and African-Americans, though were I them, I might be miffed at the tininess of the gesture.
Other women will crowd the backs of smaller denominations: Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul. peaking out from the back of the $10, Marian Anderson singing on the back of the $5.
What they should have done is exiled the lot—Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, et al—for a decade, ushered the women onto the front of all the bills. Then we could bring the presidents back, or not , in 2027.
But that would be bold. And people might complain. Hence these half-measures, these mincing semi-honors. Stealthily stealing into one suburb of Vienna.
What kills me most is they're keeping Jackson, on the back, in some capacity, a craven surrender to the idea that we can't change anything decisively. The heart breaks.
Yes, there are more important things, as day by day, year by year, the United States sinks into frozen decrepitude. But the money is a symbol of our paralysis. In a functioning country, it wouldn't be such a big honking deal to change the face on currency, because we'd have new money every decade or two.
Not this country. Tiny interests are the tail that wags the dog. So rather than irk the change-counting machine industry—yes, such a thing exists—we keep the penny, while aversion to change of any sort inspires us to keep its Lincoln design which, by the way, first appeared in 1909. We've seen it plenty.
I won't rave on about the ugliness of our coinage. I'd rather see a sharp bas relief of Donald Trump on the quarter than the bland profile of Washington we've been looking at since 1932. Although maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. I'm thinking what kind of currency, what kind of coinage, a dynamic nation striding into the future would have. Maybe these ugly coins and outdated bills, and incremental half changes are exactly what we deserve.