Sunday, June 11, 2017

Why carry a money clip?

     The money clip in Ann Tyler's 14th novel, A Patchwork Planet is modest—"A leather money clip, the kind you make from a kit"—yet carries quite a bit of symbolic heft. 
    At first it is a sign of affection from Opel, the daughter of the mope narrator, Barnaby Gaitlin, who carries it around in his pocket even when he has no cash to tuck into it, showing the token off. 
    "Everyone admired it."
     Later it becomes the vessel where the 30-year-old failure will certainly put the $8700 he owes his parents, as soon as he scrapes the currency together.
      Then again, money clips are as much symbol as function. Yes, they keep your money in neat order in your pocket, so you may draw out your wad without the bother of fumbling in a wallet.
    But money clips are also part of the ensemble of a put-together man, a suite that once included cufflinks and tie-bars, fancy pens and embroidered handkerchiefs.
     On Saturday, I reposted a 2002 column on my first cell phone. It contained this line: "...the phone is just another thing to carry, to keep in my drawer and load in my pockets every morning--wallet, keys, money clip, handkerchief and, now, telephone."
     Which prompted a query from a regular reader.
     "I've never understood the point of a money clip," Ann Hilton Fisher wrote on Facebook. "Do you still carry one? Isn't it redundant if you also carry a wallet?"
      Yes, I do. And no, not really redundant. Bills will bulk up your wallet—Frank Sinatra carried just a gold money clip stuffed with hundreds because he didn't like how wallets bulged his pants—and a money clip allows you to keep cash in a separate pocket. It's also safer. When making small cash purchases, you do not have to drag out your entire wallet, but can spend a buck while your vital IDs and credit cards remain stowed and secure. (Money clips are also harder for pickpockets to steal, and some security experts suggest men carry the clips instead of wallets with perhaps a cash card or ID slipped in with the currency).
    Although that is not why I started carrying a money clip. As a teen, a clip that had belonged to my grandfather, showing a long 1950s car, fell into my possession, and it seemed a relic from nightclubs and early dawns, a continental affectation I could adopt immediately, along with crossing my 7s and using a cigarette holder.
    Money clips were part of the luxe life.
    "Ruber wears a star sapphire ring and has a large collection of oversize cufflinks," John O'Hara writes in a 1963 short story, "John Barton Rosedale, Actors' actor." "He has at least twenty suits that he rotates, a Patek Philippe wristwatch, and a golden dollar-sign money clip which he displays when the day's bridge score is toted up."   
       There is definitely the element of display, of show, to a money clip. Your money isn't hidden in your wallet, but flashed at the world. They are supposed to be impressed. I know that is why I like to keep a hundred or two ready for action. There is an immigrant scrambling to that, the way patrons in a certain kind of bar or club will keep their money stacked on the table in front of them and pay out as they go. Of course the largest bill migrates to the outside. 
    Indeed, the practice of gilding your wad of cash with a large bill, concealing the smaller within, became associated to whatever striving ethnic group you want to sneer at: "a Jewish bankroll," a "Polish bankroll," etc.
     Then when I got married, my gift to my groomsmen was a money clip with a desert scene in wood and brass and stone. I gave one to myself while I was at it, one with a rectangle of lapis lazuli, and I've been carrying it ever since. Somewhere along the way it lost one of the goldish bars framing the blue stone, but it still works. There's something comforting about the object.
     Money clips make a great gift for Father's Day, a week from today, in that they are relatively inexpensive, or can be, and odds are the man on your list doesn't have one. They suggest the recipient has a certain panache, and who doesn't appreciate a gift that suggests that?
     Jazz man Thelonius Monk not only carried a money clip, but one with a $1,000 bill tucked into it, which drew attention of the East German border guards when Monk visited in 1967. They thought the clip might have to be impounded.
    "You ain't taking my thousand dollars," Monk informed the guards.
    "I had to explain to them, in German, that it was kind of a good luck charm," said his associate, Michael Blackwood. "We explained that he was a cultural figure and he lives in his own world."
     That explains the allure of money clips as well as anything: they might not make you Thelonius Monk. But they encourage the illusion that one is a cultural figure, living in his own world.
    Although an item that certainly clashes with the practical world, even before electronics really began mooting cash. In the 1998 Ann Tyler novel, when Barnaby Gaitlin finally assembles his 87 $100 bills and goes to repay his debt, only to find the wad too thick for Opal's money clip. He uses a paper bank band instead.


  1. What is this "cash" you speak of?

  2. I always have liked the way a man with a money clip comes across!
    He carries himself differently than a man with a wallet!
    Also... I LOVE your column Neil! It is great reading! You never disappoint!

  3. I've wondered how many people carry pocket knives. I've carried the exact same Gerber knife for the last 20 years. My money clip isn't as fancy as yours though.

  4. I've always heard and called the large bill covering a wad of ones a Hollywood bankroll, although I think it makes more sense to reverse the roll and put the ones on the outside.

  5. I carry my bills folded in the right front packet. Neatly folded and relatively secure from pick pockets. But with no need of a clip. However, a small leather purse for coins is useful.

    Billfolds, these days, are for credit cards, drivers license, Medicare and other forms of identification.


  6. I carried a money clip for several years, until 9/11. Soon after that I had to travel, and while going through the security screening at O'Hare I pulled out the cash and put it my pocket. The sterling silver clip went into the tray with all my other metal. When I retrieved the items from the tray, the clip fell and slid across the airport floor, amidst all the heavy foot traffic there. I heard it as it hit the floor, and immediately scanned the area to retrieve it, but it slid beyond my field of vision. I never saw it again. It wasn't long after that I started using my debit card to make cash purchases. I carry very little cash today. I have gone two weeks with little more than $5.00 in my pocket. I use $2.00 per week to buy Sunday papers at the Dollar Tree, and a couple times a week I throw in a dollar in a "pass the basket" event I attend. Another $2.00 goes to the lottery pool at the office. Beyond that I have little need for a money clip. But if I used cash today, I would probably have one. It was indeed a status symbol.

  7. I just mentioned this post and the question of carrying wallet and clip being redundant to my husband. His immediate reply was absolutely not. If you get held up, you hand over the money clip so they don't get your cards and ID.

  8. Glad to see that they published Neil's Falling article in today's paper. Some really valuable information. Personally, I think I benefit most from being reminded that excess fear of falling can lead to falls as well as neglecting common sense precautions such as holding on to a railing or using a cane when appropriate. Just now, I'm more prone to show off my elderly dexterity at the risk of tumbling down a flight of stairs.



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