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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Paper Money

I've always been interested in paper money. I own paper money notes from over 170 countries, most in uncirculated condition. I own large handmade Tibetan notes, Tzarist Russian banknotes, notes from the French Revolution, notes issued by US banks in the 1800s, and Buddhist hell money to be burned for dead ancestors. But perhaps the most interesting is J.S.G. Boggs paper money artwork:
full size version
Here's some advice: If some guy named J.S.G. Boggs offers to pay for something using drawings of money instead of money, take the offer. I heard a story about some paper money dealers who went to lunch with Boggs. He offered the reluctant waitress the choice of accepting cash or drawings of cash. The paper money dealers sat there squirming, wishing they could shout out, "Take it! I'll buy it from you for 10 times as much!" They were wealthy and could easily buy just about any banknote that interested them, except for Boggs notes. I know that those dealers mentioned would have been willing to pay perhaps a thousand dollars or more for a single Boggs note at that time and place.

Ten years ago, I considered all the stories about how Boggs challenges people's understanding of money as being overblown. Today, I find it to be a very important issue. The question about the future of the US dollar vs other currencies is key right now.

I talked recently to someone who returned from Shanghai. He mentioned how he knew someone who went through convoluted steps in order to convert Chinese renmindi into US dollars. This seems odd because we're told that people should be trying to go the other way. Why does so much of the world seem to want to hold stuff denominated in dollars? That's one of those questions that could generate a lot of interesting knowledge while applying the scientific method to determing the answer.

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