Friday, February 20, 2009

Busted Banks, Bad Checks

In a box of personal papers found at an estate sale, a bounced check and an explanatory note from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, which reported that "we are advised that that bank is closed." The check is dated December 1931, and the US economy was well into the hard times that followed the crash of the stock market in 1929. The young man who wrote the check was in college in Alabama at the time. He saved similar notices and returned checks from other failed banks where he had accounts, including checks to the barber shop, the college bookstore, and his boarding house. The Federal Reserve Bank considerately attached this boilerplate note to each check with a straight pin before returning them to him. The postcard below, from the University of North Carolina collections, shows the failed bank in better days.

The happy ending is that the economy eventually recovered and he went on to a successful career in business. But I think it's telling that he never discarded these reminders of an unnerving time in his life and that of America.

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