July 6

William A. Dwiggins chose this date for the first illustration in his whimsical essay, Towards a Reform of the Paper Currency, Particularly in Point of its Design, published in 1932. The illustration bears the caption, “Infuriated Artists demolishing the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at Washington. Morning of the 6th of July, 1951. First phase of the Communist Revolution.

That the artists of this fair land had cause to be infuriated is aptly explained by WAD in his satire. Indeed, since there has been no significant improvement in the design of our currency since the Hingham typographer first brought the matter to our attention, there is some reason to believe that these same artists are still infuriated.

Thinking about money as something which has to be designed is, as Dwiggins carefully points out, foreign to the ordinary citizen of the republic who grows up “to take dollar bills as a matter of course, as part of the phenomenon of nature, unexplained acts of God.”

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing scarcely could have sanctified Dwiggins’ remarks, and most certainly, having celebrated in 1962 the one hundredth year of its existence, it will not care to be reminded that certain discerning users of its product are less than happy with its design. Dwiggins believed that a sort of osmosis had set in at the Bureau in its earliest days, a not uncommon malady in government circles.

“The present currency,” he writes, “is the last of a series of copies—copies of copies of copies of copies, along a weary sequence back to the Louis-Philippe original. Changes do happen in such a sequence—a gradual blunting of the original intention. It is an astonishing fact that the present design is many degrees worse than the original!”

In an accompanying footnote, Dwiggins claimed that he had discovered a theory to explain the quality of art in Washington. “This explanation proceeds on the simple assumption that the Washington brand isn’t art—that it is never set up to be art—that no one in the bureaus claims it is art, or ever thinks of it in that way. It is another kind of stuff altogether. It sours easily because it isn’t intended to stay fresh—it is meant to last only for the short time during which it is being manipulated. The proponents of the theory maintain that the whole affair, in fact, is simply manipulation—a civil-service process for filling in the time. You are given a piece of paper and instructed to cover it with lines copied from a pattern sheet; you go on putting the lines on the paper until the space is full and then you are through and it is time to go and play golf.”

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