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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Caricature vs. the Corporation # 02: Wall Street & Financial Reform

One hundred years from now, will there still be new cartoons about bank failures? Or about unemployment rates doubling across the country while financial firms triple their profits and pay their executives $20 billion in bonuses? How about a Congressional "debate" on financial reform regulation after Wall Street institutions and allied special-interest groups have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to disrupt the process?

In the early 1880s, Puck Magazine ran a series of cartoons that argued the case for financial reform from a variety of angles. Here are a couple examples with descriptions that appeared with the prints at the time of publication.

Getting Ahead of the Banks by Frederick Opper

Getting Ahead of the Banks by Frederick Opper

Puck Magazine Cover , November 30, 1881

"Recent events have shown that a bank is about the most dangerous place to keep one’s money in, and the time may come when nobody will ever dream of depositing it there for safety, and there will be a return to first principles, by using the old fashioned stocking or burying the gold in its original mother earth. In this way, no speculating cashier or enterprising morocco firm can have the opportunity of using your money for their own private purposes, and one is not likely to find posted on the door of the establishment, "Closed in consequence of the last embezzlement by the teller and president."

"We Americans pride ourselves on being a very smart, when we are in reality the most easily imposed upon and most credulous, people in the world. Although on an average a bank collapses in some part of the country in every day of the week, we still fatuously continue to put our trust in them.

"We doubt if we are very far wide of the mark in stating that probably fifty per cent of the banks throughout the Union which at present are considered sound are irretrievably rotten, chiefly owing to the directors and cashiers having spent the money of the depositors. It has become the custom now, and it is the custom more honored in the observance than the breach. Unless a man can secure a position as president, cashier or teller, or obtain special favors, we certainly would not advise him to have anything to do with a bank, always excepting the fact of his being in the burglary business."

H,C. Bunner, from the description at the front of the issue

The Deadly Upas Tree of Wall Street by Joseph Keppler

The Deadly Upas Tree of Wall Street by Joseph Keppler

Puck Magazine Centerspread , August 30, 1882

"In some remote valleys and swamps of India, and in some partially explored districts of several Asiatic islands, which abound with rank vegetation and are the home of slimy reptiles and fierce wild beasts, the Upas tree flourishes. It grows to perfection in the Island of Java, and its scientific name is antiaris toxicaria, but its poisonous qualities are quite as great in the English language as in Latin; English, therefore, will answer our purpose in this instance. Everybody has surely heard of the noxious Upas. It has been said that to even approach it was certain death … We, too, in this country have a Upas tree.

"The home of our Upas tree is in Wall Street, and it will be instantly recognized by a glance at our centre cartoon. There it stands, firmly planted and filling the surrounding atmosphere with its poison, and corrupting and killing everybody who approaches within range of its deadly qualities. There is but one tree that possesses these fatal properties; but this one has proved itself to be as dangerous among us as a whole forest of them elsewhere. Men with reputations have waded through the sluggish stream which surrounds it to pluck the golden fruit which hangs in such profusion from its branches, only to die politically, financially and morally, while the tree still holds out its tempting products, inviting more misguided men to the slaughter.

The Deadly Upas Tree of Wall Street (detail) by Joseph Keppler

"What wrecks of character lie scattered around its slimy trunk! Here may we see the skull of the once famous Jim Fisk, one of our Wall Street Upas tree’s earliest victims. An intelligent, though time-serving editor is the next in the toils … Near him is the festering corpse of a corrupt judge. Further on is a general of great ability and of whom we have already a bad record of two Presidential terms and an attempt at a third, reposing near a poor widow and ruined stockholder. In every direction shattered homes, ruined property, death and destruction are visible.

The Deadly Upas Tree of Wall Street (detail) by Joseph Keppler

"… But the tree is in fine condition. It will probably stand there for a long time to come, spreading abroad throughout the land, and other trees will grow up from its seeds and parasites. Our deadly Upas tree will continue to yield its fruit, corrupting judges, corrupting editors, corrupting Legislatures, corrupting Congress, corrupting everybody … "

H,C. Bunner, from the description at the front of the issue

David Donihue, GreatCaricatures.com financial reform

David Donihue, GreatCaricatures.com


David Donihue, GreatCaricatures.com

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4 Responses to “Caricature vs. the Corporation # 02: Wall Street & Financial Reform”

  1. Beth Davies-Stofka Says:

    We sure loved this post here at our house! There is nothing more useful than understanding that the more things change, etc. Thanks so much for this!

  2. Super I.T.C.H » Blog Archive » Wall Street Frauds Make Wonderful Cartoons, Part 03 Says:

    [...] Click here to find my prior Wall Street Frauds Make Wonderful Cartoons posts, and here to find David Donihue’s related Wall Street & Financial Reform post. [...]

  3. Super I.T.C.H » Blog Archive » Wall Street Frauds Make Wonderful Cartoons, Part 04: “Mr. Fabulous’s Stock Experience” Says:

    [...] Street Frauds Make Wonderful Cartoons posts, and also here, to find David Donihue’s related Wall Street & Financial Reform post. This series will continue, while the debate on financial reforms continues in [...]

  4. Bancarotta: l’editoriale di Frederick Opper « Fumettologicamente Says:

    [...] I.T.C.H. 45.463064 [...]

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