The Wizard of Oz and the Crime of '73

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by kaparthy, Jun 28, 2009.

  1. kaparthy

    kaparthy Well-Known Member

    At the November 1989 Coinage of the Americas Conference ("America's Gold Coinage"), Walter Breen delivered a talk suggesting that L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was an allegory or parable about the politics of bimetallism during the McKinley-Bryan presidential campaigns. For most numismatists, this was as surprising as the events of the story were to Dorothy. In fact, the theory goes back to 1964 and supports a rich literature of its own.

    In this week's Esylum, I will have a couple of paragraphs on what I have found so far. I have 27 citations, 24 of them specifically about the monetary aspects. Others focus in whole or in part on other aspectes of the political debates, including the status of the Filipinos and Native Americans. (I posted a Bibliography on the Usenet Newsgroup Rec.Collecting.Coins.)

    Yellow Brick Road = the Gold Standard
    Oz = ounce
    Tinman = Worker
    Scarecrow = Farmer
    Cowardly Lion = William Jennings Bryan
    Wizard = McKinley (or other US President)
    Emerald City = White House
    Silver Slippers (in book) = power of silver money
    Green glasses (in book) = illusion of paper money
    Gold cap (in book) = power of gold money

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  3. TheNoost

    TheNoost huldufolk

    whoah. Kinda makes a person think. It makes sense.
  4. Vess1

    Vess1 CT SP VIP

    We talked about this here a few months ago. I know I'll never see the movie in the same way again. Kind of a round about movie for a parable though. I mean, I wonder if the hidden meaning had any psychological impact on anybody at the time or if anyone even knew about it?
  5. green18

    green18 Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    Purely coincidence......there's no place like home, there's no place like home.
  6. kaparthy

    kaparthy Well-Known Member

    I searched for the discussion looking for "wizard of oz" (nothing returned) and then just "wizard" (got the coin supplies). Can you suggest a good search term for that discussion?

    Also, the allegory is the book first. Some of the elements do not appear in the movie, the silver slippers, for instance, which are ruby in the film. Whether and to what extent Baum intended the story to be a parable is debatable. Even the history teacher who first proposed the theory retracted it. Also, that theory was published in 1964, long after the movie. In fact, the theory was revived in the publicity about the 50th Anniversary of the movie in 1989. From there, it lives a life of its own. Currently, numismatist Lane Brunner is giving talks on this theme.
    • “Silver, Gold and the Wizard.” Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, Colorado Springs, CO, September 17, 2005
    • “The Wizard and Populism.” Everest College, Colorado Springs, CO, June 13, 2006
    • “Gold, Silver and the Wizard.” Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, Colorado Springs, CO, October 4, 2006
    • “Gold, Silver and the Wizard of Oz.” National Money Show, Charlotte, NC, March 18, 2007
    • “Gold, Silver and the Wizard of Oz.” South Suburban Coin Club, Denver, CO, July 26, 2007.

    In an unpublished submission elsewhere I called the theory a "Zombie Crimewave." In debate (forensics) a zombie is an idea that will not die despite its lack of facts (life). The "crimewave" starts with the "Crime of '73" a term that might have been coined many years after the event.
  7. 900fine

    900fine doggone it people like me

    I have heard this as well. The Tinman (worker) ? He needs a brain. The Cowardly Lion ? I heard it was politicians in general... they talk big, but they lack courage and guts.

    It's interesting food for thought.
  8. andycook

    andycook Supporter**

    So where does the Dark Side of the Moon fit in all of this?
  9. coleguy

    coleguy Coin Collector

    I think it was a lot of wishful thinking on Breen's part. In college we discussed this, among other books and their deeper meanings, and I don't recall bimetallism being mentioned. It was more a parallel to the great depression and the road to greener pastures and riches in the West, and a lot of other stuff.
  10. willieboyd2

    willieboyd2 First Class Poster

    Has anyone done a similar economic analysis for the Harry Potter books?
  11. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes?

    Well, not to get into poliitics, but it seems obvious to me that Lord Voldemort is Obama. Harry Potter is the (as-yet-unknown) conservative hero who will rise up and save us from the Socialists, and his friends are obviously conservative talk show hosts (Ron Weasley is a parody of Rush Limbaugh? Think about it).
  12. Siwash

    Siwash Senior Member

    :) my wife and I gave the whole, sequence the movie opening to the album thing a couple of years ago. It was a lark and a fun time!

    I do take seriously the populism theme, however. I've read Baum's other Oz titles, and they nowhere have the impact.
  13. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Not directed just at you, but to everyone - tread carefully. Fair warning.
  14. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes?

    Wasn't sure how far I could go. Warning noted.
  15. kaparthy

    kaparthy Well-Known Member

    The Crime of '73 catches our attention, to be sure. One professor, Gretchen Ritter writing in “Silver Slippers and a Golden Cap: L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" and Historical Memory in American Politics.” Journal of American Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2), notes that most people have to have the issue of Bimetallism explained to them. That might be why your college class did not perceive that. However, there are also racial and racialist allusions -- the Munchkins, Flying Monkeys, Winkies -- that had meaning back then and perhaps so still today. Also, in Evan Schwartz's book, (Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009), he points to Freudian interpretations that seem, well, let's say "peculiar." So, everyone reads into this. But that is also the point. People don't read into The Alamo or Paul Bunyon stories. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is truly an American myth, for us what the Iliad and Odyssey were to the ancient Greeks.

    That said, Walter Breen was not alone in identifying the political issues stemming from The Crime of '73. The first statement came in 1964 -- and from a journal published by his alma mater, interestingly enough. Before Breen, Michael A. Genovese placed a newspaper feature with the same theory and Genovese is a highly respected political scientist. In all, I have these citations from academic periodicals: American Quarterly, The Journal of Economic Education, The Journal of Political Economy, Journal of the Georgia Association of Historians, Journal of American Studies, Public Relations Quarterly, EconEdLink: Council for Economic Education ... I have about the same number of separate citations from newspaper features such as Genovese's and a couple of books, again, limited to just the political and economic aspects, not the "Freudian" stuff.
  16. Vess1

    Vess1 CT SP VIP

    I couldn't find the thread either. It may have come up in conversation in a thread that got side tracked. I clearly remember writing out all the info I found in a thread one evening. And I don't know what other forum I would have shared that with. I'll look one more time. I think this is an interesting tidbit that few people know about. I've explained it to a few people. Some wouldn't believe me. Most people have no idea there was a book.

    Edit: I looked through my posts past the time when I thought I wrote it and did not find it. Maybe I sent it in an e-mail to somebody. So it looks like we haven't talked about it. I could have swore we did though.
  17. cwtokenman

    cwtokenman Coin Hoarder

    I have some related info in one of my books on Bryan money. I would post it here tonight, but I have to get up in a couple of hours. I have started an album on Bryan money on my page is anyone is interested in looking. Interesting (and big) tokens.
  18. cwtokenman

    cwtokenman Coin Hoarder

    Ah, I found it. Interesting story, and one with direct ties to Bryan Money. I had written it to someone else prior, so some of the info may be old hat.

    The movie changed a few things from the book, but in general, it was reasonably close. The name was originally The Wonderful World of Oz, and was later changed to the Wizard of Oz. It was written by L. Frank Baum and first published on August 1, 1900, and was reprinted twice by that November. The movie was produced in 1939.

    First, I will lay out a little background to give a feel for the time of when the story was written. The story allegorizes the silver and gold issues of the 1890s. The United
    States was having severe financial struggles during that time. At that time, the government was required to have gold backing for all of the paper money that was printed. The government had printed all of the paper money that they had gold backing for, so they had to halt printing additional money. This was causing a great disruption in financial circles, and hard economic times fell upon the nation. During the presidential elections of 1896 and 1900, William Jennings Bryan was running against William McKinley (Bryan lost both times).

    Bryan's main platform was to allow silver to also be used as backing for paper money so that the U.S. government could resume printing paper money and come to the rescue of the national economy. The government had large reserves of silver on hand. Bryan also wanted private citizens to be able to bring silver bullion to the government and have the mint turn it into coinage for those citizens, all for free. The term applied to that proposal was "free silver".

    To continue with a bit more background:
    In the wake of the Panic of 1893 was the upcoming presidential campaign. Farm prices collapsed, banks failed, unemployment was at 20%, and the economy was stalled. The
    protectionists wanted high tariffs to keep out foreign goods and to create jobs in the United States.

    The Populist party's remedy was to substantially increase the money supply by adopting a dual metal (both gold and silver) standard. Vast reserves of silver were both already
    on deposit, as well as huge reserves waiting to be mined. The working man supported this addition of silver. The rich and influential people did not support it as they were
    benefitting by taking advantage of the financial woes of the poor. These issues polarized the people of the West and South on one side, against the wealthier people of the Northeast. Essentially, it was farmer against industrialist, the well-to-do against the lower economic classes.

    A little more about the author:
    The background of L. Frank Baum was a good foundation for his money allegory. In New York, in 1856, he wrote and produced a play that made it to Broadway. In 1882, he married a daughter of a leading suffragette, Matilda Joslyn Gage. (Women's suffrage was about women obtaining the right to vote.) He and his family moved to South Dakota. There he saw the hard, rugged life of rural America.

    He was unsuccessful in many endeavors, one of which was a small newspaper named the Western Investor. In 1890 he and his family moved to Chicago where he became acquainted with writers, press people, and politics. Chicago was the site of the Democratic National Convention of 1896. Baum was a supporter of silver and distrusted the powers of big business and money in the Northeast.

    Now, into the story:
    To summarize, the story begins in Kansas. Dorothy represents a young, honest, average, rural American citizen. She was probably modeled after the popular orator Leslie Kelsey who was known as the Kansas Tornado. Her best friend was her dog, Toto, who represents the Phohibition Party. Dorothy's home was taken by a cyclone (the free silver movement) to the land of Oz (abbreviation for ounce of gold). Dorothy's house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East (eastern financial powers). The witch dries up and leaves her silver shoes. Note that in the color movie version, the shoes were changed to ruby red.

    Dorothy sets out on the yellow (gold) brick road to the Emerald (green - color of U.S. money) City. The city was ruled by the Wizard of Oz (gold ounce, Marcus Hanna the wizard of banking). Along the way, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow (the western farmer). The Scarecrow said he had no brains because his head is stuffed with straw. They came upon the Tin Woodman (the American factory worker) who said he had no heart because he was cursed by the Wicked Witch of the East. They are then joined by the Cowardly Lion (William Jennings Bryan). He was cowardly because there was a fear Bryan would put other issues ahead of silver for the 1900 Election. It was a reference to Bryan not being able to change the opinions of the Northeast workers. The cast of characters continues to the Emerald city. This represented a group of unemployed workers, led by Jacob Coxey (Coxey's Army), on a march to Washington, D.C., in 1894, demanding the printing of five hundred million greenbacks.

    Along the way, each character was challenged. When our party reached the Emerald City they were told to wear green glasses held with a gold buckle (money colored glasses). They were taken to the Emerald Palace (The White House - the U.S. Capitol). There were seven passages and three flights of stairs (Crime of 1873). When it was discovered that the witches and wizards were fakes, all was wonderful in a new bimetallic world.

    Time for a Crime of 1873 background break:
    The passages and stairs are a reference to the "Crime of 1873", which was one of the earliest precursors to the financial issues of 1896. A good explanation would be quite
    lengthy, so, to put it shortly, the crime was a bill that slipped through the U.S. Congress which did not state demonetization of silver. It appeared to be a direction of
    minting measures and procedures. The "crime" was the omission of the standard silver dollar, and whether intentional or not, dictated the U.S. money to have only gold as a
    metal standard.

    A five year long depression started in 1873. Silver interests urged a return to bimetallism, but President Hayes managed to accumulate enough gold in the Treasury to restore confidence in the paper greenbacks, and the economy gradually improved.

    Hard times came again, culminating in 1884 as a result of the industrial revolution. Hundreds of thousands of workers were replaced by machines. The average single machine could replace 20 workers.

    Then, in 1890, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act called for issuance of Treasury Notes, but did so without restoring the silver dollar to a coequal bimetallic standard. This led
    to more deflation as the Panic of 1893 approached.

    Each character was shown he had the qualities he thought he didn't possess. The Scarecrow shows his intelligence despite believing he has no brains; the Tin Woodsman shows how kind he really is; and the Cowardly Lion proves how brave he is.

    Note the Wizard calling Kansas the land of E. Pluribus Unum (a motto used on U.S. coinage). Yellow Winkies is a reference to the Republican administration's capture of the
    Philippines from Spain and its refusal to grant them independence. Munchkins were the simple minded people of the East who did not understand financial issues.

    Dorothy and Toto could return home. Scarecrow was able to understand the financial issues at hand. Tin Woodsman was given a new tool, the bimetallic ax (golden ax with a silver blade). The Cowardly Lion proved his primary goal was the silver issue. He did not forgo the silver issue for the anti-imperialism movement. There are other references to
    the gold and silver issue as well, all of which point to the conclusion that the Wizard of Oz is a story woven from the fabric of the 1890s economy.
  19. cwtokenman

    cwtokenman Coin Hoarder

    I could not find my reference book to give credit to my source, but I shall do that as soon as I find it.
  20. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    A bit off topic to the subject, but pertinent to the paragraph above -

    Few people are aware of it, but since the inception of the US Mint people have always been able to bring silver and or gold to the mint and have the mint turn that metal into coins for them. In fact, it was precisely this method which was the source of most of our early coins for decades. And it is still possible even today.

    The one difference from what Bryan wanted is that the mint will not do this for free because of the associated costs of doing so. They will keep enough of the silver or gold to cover their costs. This was the way that mints world wide obtained precious metals for their coins for thousands of years. And it is where the term seniorage comes from.
  21. ericl

    ericl Senior Member

    Yeah, but L. Frank Baum, who wrote the damn thing, said it wasn't political. So the whole thing is Bull.
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