The new signature on our currency

President Obama has nominated his chief of staff, Jack Lew, to be the new Treasury Secretary. That has stirred some controversy. But what I worry about is his signature, which will go on all currency issues during his time in office:


We have blogged before about how penmanship and cursive writing have been dropped from most contemporary educational curricula. Here we see the consequence. How can the world trust our currency and how can the dollar keep up its value if it looks like this?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Tom Hering

    Eew! It looks like a hair on my money. And not just any hair.

  • Julian

    Why doesn’t Parties have a +1button? This comment deserves it.

  • Julian

    Patheos, not parties

  • Kempin04

    Say, Julian, a +1 button is not a bad idea. I would use it.

    Then again, it might give the lurkers too much of a voice and soon have us all on the Pavlovian quest to please the faceless plussers.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Hmm.. obviously a public school grad…

  • WebMonk

    I heard a story on this on Marketplace (I think) and Lew is apparently aware of this and is looking to change his signature to something a little less slinky-like for the bill.

  • Jon

    “Will you please witness my X?”

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    It’s no less readable than my own signature.
    Since when are signatures supposed to be readable?

  • Steve Bauer

    I can’t remember seeing a Treasury Secretary’s signature on currency that was readible.

  • mikeb

    I wonder though if the trend of having a unique, if illegible, signature–his isn’t the only one–is part of the greater emphasis in the culture on “me”. It’s as if he is subconsciously saying to heck with everyone else who can’t read that this broken slinky says “Jacob Lew” because it says what “I” say it says.

  • sg

    Ugh, another Harvard man. Can we please get a protestant from State U? Come on, these people don’t “look like America” at all. We the people would like to have a few of our people in some top positions. A little less minority and a little more majority, please.

  • sg

    Okay, handwriting analysis says it indicates secretiveness.

    Is secretiveness a desirable trait in a Treasury Sectretary?

  • fjsteve

    sg, depends on who you ask. If you work for the Federal Reserve, you’ll probably say yes.

  • tODD

    Ooh, handwriting analysts said that? What did the tarot-card experts say? Does it line up?

    I can’t tell you the last time I looked at the signature of the Treasury Secretary. I know that when I was a kid, I was very puzzled by the name “Donald Regan” on the few bills I had in my possession, but only because it was oddly similar to the name of the President at the time.

    I looked over the signatures of past Treasury Secretaries (which can be found here), and most of them are, if not legible, then at least reasonable variations on cursive.

    But, honestly, Andrew Mellon’s (1921-32) signature was pretty loopy as well (Walter Woods’ as well, Treasurer 1929-33), though I quite like it. Seems like men wrote initials for everything except their last name in signatures back then.

    Of course, we also have to remember that the Treasurer of the United States also gets to sign the bills. Having looked into their number, they are an unusual lot. For one thing, I can’t remember ever hearing of any of them, much less seeing their names. For another thing, they’ve all been women since 1949. And six of the last ten have also been Hispanic. So that’s something. But seriously, did you know the (middle) name “Gumataotao” appeared on notes being printed right now? I didn’t.

    Anyhow, for my money (ha!), the best signature to grace our money (at least visible on that page I linked to) was Kathryn O’Hay Granahan’s, Treasurer from 1963-6. Rosario Marin (Treasurer, 2001-3) had some style, as well.

  • tODD

    MikeB (@12:31 pm), really? Don’t you think you’re trying a bit too hard to make this a cultural issue?

    Signatures have never, that I’m aware of, been meant to convey solely the proper spelling of one’s name. What, you think John Hancock’s or Benjamin Franklin’s full names had all that squiggly stuff in it? What letter is that? (Oh, and talk about an “emphasis on ‘me’”!)

    No, they’ve always been a means to uniquely identify the person so signing. As such, the legibility of the signature is pretty unimportant. I’ve never signed a document that didn’t either have my name printed on it for me or required me to print my name legibly.

  • fjsteve

    Nah, William Julian or William Simon. Those are classics.

  • Orianna Laun

    One of my favorite books from when I was younger dealt with a girl who traveled through time via an elevator. The narrator of the story is the author who lives in the building as the girl. He describes the elevator and includes the notice of inspection.
    “A yellow ticket assured anyone who wanted to read it that the mechanism [of the elevator] had been inspected by a Mr. Scrawl Blot Scribble, who I sincerely hope is a better inspector than he is a penman.”
    We can only hope the same for the Treasury Secretary.

  • sg

    Why do people have poor signatures? Mine is fairly readable, but it is not as good as the rest of my handwriting. It sounds like others here are similar. Is there some reason it has turned out this way?

  • tODD

    SG (@4:54 pm), why do you consider readability a sign of a good signature?

  • Grace

    I don’t care how anyone signs their signature on the currency, as long as my money holds its value.

  • helen

    tODD @ 6.36 p.m.
    SG (@4:54 pm), why do you consider readability a sign of a good signature?

    I’ve been told that “scribbles” are easier to forge, because nobody is expecting to read your signature.
    (Mine isn’t pretty but most can discern the letters in it.) My cousin, in a tiny town in South Dakota, somehow had a writing teacher. His Spencerian script made his Christmas letters work of art and a joy to receive.

  • Grace

    Below a LINK to those signatures of the Presidents of the United States:

    http://presidentsunitedstates.com/

    Clinton and Obama certainly have odd signatures, in my opinion.

  • helen

    Good luck with that!

  • sg

    I don’t particularly. But there is a difference between readable and not readable. That’s all. So even people with generally readable handwriting may (often?) have unreadable signatures, but why?

  • sg

    Ha! Cool link! Mine looks like Jefferson’s. The Bushes and Clinton have awful signatures. Barak Obama’s is actually kind of cool. It is stylized and unique, not sloppy or ugly.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel D

    The paper US dollar is already among the world’s very ugliest currencies. The signature is not going to affect it much one way or the other.

  • WebMonk

    I have a few variations on my signature depending on how legible I want it to be. One is Loop-Uppy-Downy-bounces-line-loopy-loopy. Totally incomprehensible even if you know what my name is. I have slightly nicer variations that show the main letters clearly, but isn’t legible unless you know my name.

    The point isn’t to have something legible which strangers can use to track down your name in the whitepages. The point is to have a marking which uniquely identifies you for legal documents and to those who know you. The secondary desire by some people is to have a fast signature and to have a “cool” signature.

    Actual legibility to strangers is WAY down the list for most people.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X