Alternative Currencies: Ithaca Hours

The Ithaca hour is a local currency used in Ithaca, New York and is the oldest and largest local currency system in the United States that is still operating. One Ithaca hour is valued at US$10 and is generally recommended to be used as payment for one hour’s work, although the rate is negotiable.

Ithaca hours are not backed by national currency and cannot be freely converted to national currency, although some businesses may agree to buy them. Hours are printed on high-quality paper and use faint graphics that would be difficult to reproduce, and each bill is stamped with a serial number, in order to discourage counterfeiting.

Ithaca hours were started by Paul Glover in November 1991. The system has historical roots in scrip and alternative and local currencies that proliferated in America during the Great Depression. While doing research into local economics during 1989, Glover had seen an “Hour” note 19th century British industrialist Robert Owen issued to his workers for spending at his company store. After Ithaca hours began, he discovered that Owen’s Hours were based on Josiah Warren’s “Time Store” notes of 1827.

Within a few days, Glover had designs for the hour and Half hour notes. He established that each hour would be worth the equivalent of $10, which was about the average hourly amount that workers earned in surrounding Tompkins County, although the exact rate of exchange for any given transaction was to be decided by the parties themselves. At GreenStar Cooperative Market, a local food co-op, Glover approached Gary Fine, a local massage therapist, with photocopied samples. Fine became the first person to sign a list formally agreeing to accept hours in exchange for services. Soon after, Jim Rohrrsen, the proprietor of a local toy store, became the first retailer to sign-up to accept Ithaca hours in exchange for merchandise.

When the system was first started, 90 people agreed to accept hours as pay for their services. They all agreed to accept hours despite the lack of a business plan or guarantee. Glover then began to ask for small donations to help pay for printing hours.

Fine Line Printing completed the first run of 1,500 hours and 1,500 Half hours in October 1991. These notes, the first modern local currency, were nearly twice as large as the current Ithaca hours. Because they didn’t fit well in people’s wallets, almost all of the original notes were removed from circulation.

The first issue of Ithaca Money was printed at Our Press, a printing shop in Chenango Bridge, New York, on October 16, 1991. The next day Glover issued 10 hours to Ithaca Hours, the organization he founded to run the system, as the first of four reimbursements for the cost of printing hours. The day after that, October 18, 1991, 382 hours were disbursed and prepared for mailing to the first 93 pioneers.

On October 19, 1991, Glover bought a samosa from Catherine Martinez at the Farmers’ Market with Half hour #751—the first use of an hour. Several other Market vendors enrolled that day. During the next years more than a thousand individuals enrolled to accept hours, plus 500 businesses. Stacks of the Ithaca Money newspaper were distributed all over town with an invitation to “join the fun.”

A Barter Potluck was held at GIAC on November 12, 1991, the first of many monthly gatherings where food and skills were exchanged, acquaintances made, and friendships renewed. In 2002, a one-tenth hour bill was introduced, partly due to the encouragement and funding from Alternatives Federal Credit Union and feedback from retailers who complained about the awkwardness of only having larger denominations to work with; the bills bear the signatures of both hours’ president Steve Burke and the president of AFCU.

While the Ithaca hour continues to exist, in recent years it has fallen into disuse. Media accounts from the year 2011 indicate that the number of businesses accepting hours has declined. Several reasons are attributed to this. First has been the founder, Paul Glover, moving out of town. While in Ithaca, Glover had acted as an evangelist and networker for hours, helping spread their use and helping businesses find ways to spend hours they had received. Secondly, a general shift away from cash transactions towards electronic transfers with debit or credit cards. Glover has emphasized that every local currency needs at least one full-time networker to “promote, facilitate and troubleshoot” currency circulation.

The Fate of the Guggenheim Treasure

 

One of the most legendary families of early 20th century America left behind a treasure worth millions of dollars, and no one has found it…yet.

 

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The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggeinheim family came to America in the mid-1800s, and the family rapidly became one of the wealthiest in the world. Involved in the mining and smelting industries, they were also known as philanthropists and patrons of the arts. Today, the family interest, Guggeinheim Partners, oversees $200 billion in assets.

 

In September of 1903, a tugboat pushed the barge Harold past the Statue of Liberty; the barge was loaded down with nearly 8,000 silver-and-lead bars. The metal was bound for the Guggenheims’ smelters in New Jersey. But during the passage of the Arthur Kill strait, the Harold tipped, sending most of the metal bars tumbling into the murky waters. Somehow, the deckhands aboard the barge never noticed the missing cargo; the loss wasn’t uncovered until the ship docked the next morning. A salvage mission recovered most of the cargo, though the salvage company director called the deckhands the “dumbest skunks I ever had to do with.” Around 1400 bars are still unaccounted for, and could be worth up to $20 million today.

 

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Arthur Kill Strait

Rumors of the treasure have surfaced from time to time. A story goes that a local Native American was fishing in the strait when his eel trident snagged on one of the lost ingots. More recently, Ken Hayes of Aqua Survey tried to locate the treasure. An early sweep of the area revealed 255 possible targets, but no guarantees that any of them were the missing silver. Hayes’ attempts to find the treasure have been met with discouragement from locals (who believe a local should be the one to find it) as well as fellow treasure hunters looking for an easy tip off to the location of the silver.

 

To date, neither Hayes nor anyone else has found a single silver bar, much less all $20 million worth. But it may be only a matter of time until the Guggenheim Treasure resurfaces.

 

The Invention of Airmail that Swept the Nation

Before airmail was invented, shipping methods were much slower. (Homing pigeons had been used centuries before, but pigeons, to say the least, are not the most sophisticated form of transport.)

But some destinations were inaccessible unless accessed by airplane.

The story of the invention of the airplane is in itself a wonderful tale, but airmail enters the story through the first scheduled airmail service in the UK between North London and Berkshire in 1911. The event was part of the celebration of King George V’s coronation. This first service took 16 flights, carrying 35 bags of mail in total. It stopped only about a month after it started due to bad weather.

But the invention of the airplane was too useful to ignore. While the U.S. government was slow to adopt the incredible invention of the airplane, the U.S. Post Office expressed interest in the airplane early on. They tested a mail flight between Garden City and Mineola, NY. He dropped mail from the plane to the ground where the postmaster picked it up.

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The famous Jenny airplane.

The Post Office continued to conduct unofficial flights within different states between 1911 and 1912.

The first regular airmail system in the United States started in May 1918 with a route that ran between Washington, D.C. And New York City.

This is also where the famous Inverted Jenny stamp comes into play. Many of the original planes used to transport mail were Jenny training planes from the Army. The Jenny stamp was issued in 1918 in honor of the first airmail service – but things didn’t quite go as planned. You can read more here.

Airmail postage cost 24 cents.

Airmail continued to expand and grow in the U.S., and planes grew safer as time went on.

Of course, airmail was quite popular with stamp collectors. Philatelists often went out of their way to find the first airmail flights to send letters and collect the cancels from such flights.

The Artist John Haymson

The artist John Haymson’s fascinating life fed into his amazing art.

Haymson was born in Vienna, Austra in 1902. It didn’t take him long to discover his love of art when at age five he drew a portrait of his tutor. He studied at the famous Vienna Academy of Fine Art and is best known for his watercolor pieces that show vibrant daily life. Some of his subjects include Venice, Italy, New Orleans, and Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Haymson also studied stage and costume design and had the privilege of working as a writer for Warner Brothers. Soon after that, he started a studio in Manhattan and his popularity as an artist skyrocketed.

Haymson has lectured on art at many colleges, and he has also led many college tours to Mexico and Europe.

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We’re lucky enough to have a John Haymson piece in our possession. This signed piece is called “The Stock Exchange”, showing the Stock Exchange building in New York City. It’s the largest stock exchange in the world.

The building has also been the site of many notable economic events in history like the Wall Street crash of 1929 or the 1987 Black Tuesday.

This painting by Haymson shows his mastery of watercolor and showing how colorful and lively scenes of daily life can be.

If you’re interested in the painting, you can find it here!

The Incredible Story of Nellie Bly, Pt. II

 

To make a name for herself as a journalist, Nellie Bly never passed down an opportunity for a story.

(Check out Part I of Nellie’s story here!)

Bly was not done making news. In 1888, she persuaded her editor at New York World that she would take a trip around the world, a la Around the World in Eighty Days. A year later she boarded a steamer called the Augusta Victoria to begin her record-breaking journey.

The fictional Phileas Fogg as written by Jules Verne traversed the world in 80 days. Even though his record only existed in stories, it stood as a record worth beating.

But Bly had competition. The newspaper Cosmopolitan sponsored its own reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, to race around the world in the opposite direction. The World sponsored a “Nellie Bly Guessing Match” for the exact second that Bly would return from her trip.

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Bly used a number of transportation methods in her travels, including steamships, railroads, horses, rickshaws and more. In China Bly visited a leper colony and also bought a monkey in Singapore. She met Jules Verne himself in France. As she traveled she sent short reports of her positions.

Bly traveled mostly unchaperoned, a bold move for a woman of her time.

Bly had to take a slower ship than intended on the last leg of the trip, but the owner of the World hired a private train to rush her back.

After a journey of 72 days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds, Bly returned to New York. She set the world record for the fastest trip around the world.

Bisland, the reporter sent to race her, arrived in New York four and a half days later; she had missed a connection and had to finish her journey on a slower ship.

A few months later, a man named George Francis Train beat her record with a trip in 67 days.

Nellie Bly had established herself as an all-star reporter, and her name was later recognized in various pop culture and other references. The New York Press Club, for instance, gives an annual “Nellie Bly Club Reporter” journalism award to the best new journalists in the field.

When Bly passed away in 1922, she had an unmarked grave in New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery until the New York Press Club funded a gravestone with her name in 1978.

 

Pioneers of Color Printing: The McLoughlin Bros., Inc.

The McLoughlin Bros., formed in 1828 in New York, made revolutionary moves in regards to color printing technologies. They printed many children’s books with this newer color method.

They specialized in retelling classic stories, often removing any material that they considered improper or offensive.

The company grew as a family business, first run by John McLoughlin, Jr. and soon joined by his younger brother Edmund McLoughlin as a business partner.

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At the start of the business, they continually experimented with methods of illustration and their printing process. They tried hand stenciling to zinc etching to chromolithography, a method for making multi-color prints.

Eventually they opened a color printing factory which employed up to 75 artists. The company had established chromolithographs as their printing method of choice. The company moved their office location in New York a number of times through the years.

Inside pages of illustration from "The Old Woman and Her Pig" by McLoughlin Bros., Inc.

Inside pages of illustration from “The Old Woman and Her Pig

Unfortunately, the company founder John McLoughlin Jr.’s death in 1905 brought hardship to the company. It sorely missed his business and artistic leadership.

In 1920, Milton Bradley bought McLoughlin Bros., Inc. The McLoughlin branch still continued production of books and games (minus a pause in production during the WWII years). Through the years, other companies bought the McLoughlin trademark. The company’s name finally dropped from print in the 1970s.

Today, collectors express plenty of interest towards McLoughlin Bros. books and games as well as the Mcloughlin wood engraving blocks. They’re hot commodities in the collecting world.

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Source: American Antiquarian

All Aboard for Standard Railroad Time

In the mid 19th century, a new invention swept the nation that would forever change how transportation and communication worked. The First Transcontinental Railroad was built, spanning the U.S. from San Francisco Bay to Council Bluffs, Iowa.

It was the start of a wonderful thing.

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But realization dawned upon the railroad companies. At the time, towns depended on their own local clocks to keep the time – thus leading to discrepancies between the times. When the ceremonial golden spike was to be driven into the ground to celebrate the opening of the Pacific Railroad in 1869, telegraphers declared the exact moment it happened. But the reported time varied from city to city. Even just in San Francisco, the reported time was both 11:44 and 11:46.

A number of time-keeping methods were used at the time. Many people still judged the time based on the placement of the sun in the sky. Local city times used town clocks based on the meridian of a certain location. Meanwhile, before the reform, railroads ran on time based on the town they had left from. The railroad timetables were very complicated.

Railroad officials knew they had to fix this. The time imbalance could only spell trouble for railroad workers and passengers.

So one man stepped up to make a more reasonable time synchronization. Charles Ferdinand Dowd, a teacher in New York, started designing a standard Railway Time. He made the plan that we’re familiar with today, where standard time is based on time zones. He moved the meridian time to the neutral Greenwich Mean time.

In 1873, railroad managers collectively took a look at Dowd’s plan and gave it praise. However, no action was made to establish the time zone plan.

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Then Sanford Fleming came along. He recommended a worldwide Standard Time and four time zones across the U.S. based on the Greenwich Mean Time. The secretary of the General Time Convention at the time, William F. Allen, liked Fleming’s plan and worked hard to establish the system.

Finally, in 1883, railroad heads all agreed to establish five time zones based on Fleming and Allen’s collective plans. It took some time for people to adjust but soon the plan proved itself to be incredibly useful, all thanks to the railroad system.

In 1999, the North America Railway Hall of Fame inducted Standard Time into its category of technical innovations.

The Scandalous Story of the 1891 $1,000 Silver Certificate

This $1,000 dollar silver certificate may look like an ordinary bill, but the woman on the left has drama surrounding her the likes of which you wouldn’t expect.

In June 2013, one of two existing bills sold for $2.6 million, a record price. The only other bill of this type known to exist is in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian.

The woman on the left looks like your typical Lady Liberty, but there’s more story to this woman who was the model for this patriotic purpose. Her real name was Josie Mansfield.

Josie was born in either 1842 or 1853, depending on the source. She started making a living in her teens by becoming an actress and showgirl in San Francisco. To make ends meet, she became a courtesan for the wealthy men of San Francisco through her beauty and charming personality.

She married an actor named James Lawler and soon after their marriage they moved to New York.

In New York, Josie met James Fisk. A brutal businessman, Fisk did such business dealings as betraying businessmen for control of the Erie Railroad and manipulating stocks. He also bought a theater to set up shows with scantily-clad women, which certainly created a reputation for him.

Josie had divorced James Lawler fairly quickly and Fisk himself supplied her with a nice house. Reportedly, the house had a walkway directly to Fisk’s office; Fisk had a wife at the time who lived away from him in Boston, so the affair between he and Josie had to be kept secret.

Here’s where the real scandal comes in. Josie had a number of affairs with both men and women, but eventually she fell in love with Edward Stokes, a business partner of James Fisk. Using Fisk’s love letters to Josie, she and Stokes tried to blackmail him for money. However, Fisk’s rather big connections helped him out when he took the pair to court. His judge friends rejected every lawsuit Josie and Stokes filed.

On January 6th, 1872 at the Grand Central Hotel, the broke and furious Stokes shot Fisk twice in the stomach. Fisk died within a few hours. Stokes served four years in prison.

Josie Mansfield, most likely sick of the drama, moved to Paris after the murder and married American lawyer Robert Livingston Reade, who was put into an asylum for alcohol and chloral hydrate addiction six years later. Josie lived the rest of her life in comfort on Reade’s enormous fortune.

You’re probably wondering where the $1,000 note comes in to all this. The engraver Charles Kennedy Burt designed the Lady Liberty based on a photo of Josie, putting a crown of stars on her head as embellishment.

So Josie Mansfield, a member of this infamous love triangle, found herself forever on the $1,000 bill. Her history and the history of the people surrounding her have been immortalized on this rare collectible.

Traveling with Art: The Flatiron Building, New York City

There’s so much to say about New York City and its history that we wouldn’t know where to start. Thankfully, this vibrant painting by an artist named Lin guides the way to a more directed discussion: it shows the Flatiron Building on the corner of 175 Fifth Avenue. This skyscraper, completed in 1902, gets its name from its resemblance to a cast-iron clothing iron.

If you had to pick a U.S. city for its architecture, New York City would win hands down. The city’s architecture gives a romantic view of city life with its skyscrapers and impressive skyline. And so many of its skyscrapers are known by name – the Chrysler building, the Empire State Building, etc.Flatiron Building001

And the Flatiron Building deserves a mention of its own. It was declared a New York City landmark in 1966, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and named a National Historic Landmark in 1989.NYSkyscrapers001

The building was constructed despite the decline of the nearby neighborhood at the time. Citizens insisted on calling it the Flatiron despite its given name, the Fuller Building, so-called after the “father of the skyscraper” George A. Fuller.

Originally after its construction, NYC citizens placed bets on how far the building’s debris would go after it collapsed from the wind. They thought that Daniel Burnham’s design would make the building susceptible to easily blowing over. However, its steel bracing was designed to withstand up to four times the amount of wind force than could be expected to ever pass through the area. The bets were off, and the Flatiron stayed.

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The full painting by the artist Lin, available here.

Today, the building functions as an office building, although its unique shape creates odd, cramped offices, with walls cutting through rooms at angles. Also, a second elevator has to be taken from the 20th floor to reach the 21st, thanks to the floor’s addition three years after the rest of the building was completed.

It has its oddities, but the Flatiron Building has firmly rooted itself in NYC soil as an integral part of the city. Keep an eye out for its use or appearance in multiple TV shows and movies, like Godzilla (1998) and Spider-Man movies.

Top 5 Most Expensive Coins in the World

These top five coins are the most expensive coins out there.

Currency is a funny thing — sometimes, thanks to government mishaps or indecision or even rogue goldsmiths, currency turns out to be worth much more than its original value.

Here we present to you the five most valuable coins (as determined by public auctions) in the world.

FlowingHairObverse1. The Flowing Hair dollar
The Flowing Hair dollar was the first coin to be issued by the U.S. Federal government. At the time, the Spanish dollar was a popular piece used for trade in the Americas, and so the U.S. based the Flowing Hair dollar’s size and weight on the Spanish dollar. In 1795, five years after the Flowing Hair dollar had been started in production, the “Draped Bust” dollar replaced it.

Where’s the money?: In 2013 a 1794 coin sold for 10 million dollars.

Double Eagle Obverse2. 1933 Double Eagle
The 1933 double eagle is a 20-dollar coin, with the second-highest price paid at auction for one U.S. Coin. A 1933 act in the U.S. called for people to trade in their gold coins for other currency, as gold coins were declared to no longer be legal tender. Most of these 1933 Double Eagle coins were melted down in the same year.

Where’s the money?: A 1933 Double Eagle sold in 2002 for 7.5 million.

brasher doubloon3. The 1787 Brasher Doubloon EG on Breast
In 1787, a goldsmith and silversmith named Ephraim Brasher petitioned New York State to mint copper coins. New York did not want to get into minting copper coinage, but Brasher himself had the skills to strike his own copper coins. He made his own copper and gold coins over the next few years.

Where’s the money?: A 1787 Brasher Doubloon sold for 7.4 million.

doubleleopard4. Edward III Gold Florin
In the 1340s, the English Parliament petitioned Edward III for the creation of gold coins for international trade. The new coins were florins of fine gold, worth six shillings, with designs of French influence.
The coin’s face value was higher than the value of its gold weight, and the six shillings value was not a good fit for England’s currency system. Soon the gold florin was replaced by the noble, worth a third of a pound and half of a mark – a much more useful ratio. Only three coins of this type have been known to survive the centuries, making them extremely valuable.

Where’s the money?: A 1343 Gold Florin sold for 6.8 million.

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5. 1804 Class I Silver Dollar
The 1804 Silver Dollar (also known as the Bowed Liberty Dollar) had limited production in the 1830s and 1860s, long after its face date. It was not uncommon at the time to mint coins from older dates. Only fifteen genuine 1804 Silver Dollars exist.
There are many replicas and counterfeits of this coin, some made to trick collectors, some made as cheap substitutes.
According to legend, King Rama IV of Siam gave a 1804 silver dollar (produced in 1834) to Anna Leonowens as seen in the film The King and I. Anna’s family kept the coin for several generations until a pair of British ladies claiming to be her descendants sold the coin, where it found its way to the “King of Siam” collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

Where’s the money?: An 1804 Silver Dollar sold in 1999 for 4.14 million.