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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 4, January 24, 2010, Article 14

SMITHSONIAN ACQUIRES USDA FOOD STAMP ARCHIVE

Arthur Shippee forwarded this article from the New York Times about a major acquisition for the national Numismatic Collection. -Editor

USDA Food Stamps Like a $10 bill, it was printed by the Treasury, and it bore proud emblems of American democracy an eagle, a portrait of Alexander Hamilton alongside the words "10 Dollars." Unlike ordinary currency, though, it also bore a warning: "Nontransferable except under conditions prescribed by the secretary of agriculture."

Although the government distributed billions of these food coupons, or food stamps, over the last half-century, only a small number have survived since they were replaced by a debit-card-like system. Now this coupon and the master dye used to make the plate that created it will be enshrined in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, which on Thursday announced that it has acquired a large trove of materials related to the food-stamp program.

The materials, long housed at the Agriculture Department, which runs the program, were headed for disposal until last summer, when two museum volunteers alerted curators and helped arrange for the most significant items nearly 200 in all to be transferred and preserved. The items include food coupons, booklets, proof sheets, early artists' designs and printer's plates.

"What we did, effectively, was go over and cherry-pick the collection," Richard Doty, senior curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the museum, said on Thursday. "We wanted to tell a story with it."

The museum's director, Brent D. Glass, said the acquisition was "especially significant considering the current economic hardships facing Americans today."

Michael B. Katz, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania and an authority on welfare and social policy, applauded the acquisition. "It shows an attention to the history of social policy, which is an important part of the history of this country that is relatively neglected by that museum," he said.

While I think most serious numismatists would agree that a widely used money substitute such as U.S. Food Stamps are important for study and should be documented and preserved, others can't resist the temptation to make a political statement. The article goes on...

Others took a dimmer view. "A roomful of material relating to food stamps is another example of why museums aren't much fun anymore," said Charles Murray, a conservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who believes that welfare programs promote dependency. "I get chills when I go to a great museum and see Jefferson's writing desk or the coat Nelson was wearing at Trafalgar," he added, whereas an acquisition like this amounts to little more than political correctness. ("It's spinach, and it's good for us," Mr. Murray said. "I say to hell with it.")

Mr. Murray clearly doesn't get it. 200 items hardly constitute a "roomful", yet they serve to document for future scholars the creation and operation of a large Federal program. The materials themselves are what they are and remain politically neutral regardless of what anyone thinks of the program they represent. -Editor

Putting it more directly (and I have his OK to publish this), Dick Doty adds:

I say to hell with Mr. Murray!



Wayne Homren, Editor

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