SC structure drew inspiration from Washington Irving

One of South Carolina’s more celebrated architectural gems began as an antebellum bank.

The Farmers’ and Exchange Bank Building, on Charleston’s East Bay Street, has been garnering the attention of locals and visitors alike since its construction in 1854.

Its Moorish design made it a novelty then and now, and it caught the eye of famed writer William Gilmore Simms, who penned an article for Harper’s Magazine in June 1857.

“It is a novelty in the architecture of Charleston, if not of the day, being Moorish in all of its details, yet without reminding you of the Alhambra or the Vermillion towers,” wrote Simms (1806-1870), regarded as a force in antebellum Southern literature. “It is of brownstone of two tints, laid alternately – an arrangement which adds considerably to the effect. The interior is finished with arabesque work from floor to ceiling, and is lighted with subdued rays from the summit. This gives a rich and harmonious effect to the whole. It is of recent erection, Jones and Lee the architects. The corporation itself is a new one, and prosperous, like all the temples reared to the god of the Mines, the Counter, and the Mint, in this virtuous city.”

The building, built to house the Farmers’ and Exchange Bank, was designed by Charlestonians Edward C. Jones and Francis D. Lee in 1853 and completed the following year.

Jones was an especially notable architect whose other works included the Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg and Charleston’s famed Magnolia Cemetery.

The Farmers’ and Exchange Bank building has rounded horseshoe arches and a façade featuring pale Jersey and darker Connecticut brownstone, giving it a striped effect typical of many Moorish structures.

Its design is thought to have been influenced by illustrations in Washington Irving’s 19th century work, Tales of the Alhambra, a revised edition of which was published two years before construction.

The structure was built by David Lopez, who also constructed Charleston’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue and Institute Hall, where the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession was signed in December 1860.

The Farmers’ and Exchange Bank continued in Charleston until Federal bombardment of the city during the War Between the States forced the bank’s move to Columbia. It didn’t survive the conflict.

Later, the structure was used for a variety of purposes, including a Western Union telegraph office, office space for long-time Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings and, most recently, a restaurant.

By 1970 there was talk of tearing the building down to make room for parking; however Charleston banker Hugh Lane Sr. spent $50,000 to preserve the structure in the early 1970s.

(Top: Farmers’ and Exchange Bank Building, Charleston, SC.)

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Zimbabwe could be retracing road to hyperinflation

zimbabwe-bond-notes

Zimbabwe introduced a new currency Monday, but citizens of the foundering African nation aren’t exactly embracing the so-called “bond note” money.

Zimbabwe has been operating to a large degree on US dollars since 2009, after the Zimbabwe dollar was abandoned following some of the worst inflation in world history – peaking at something akin to 500 billion percent – that left residents barely able to buy such items as a single egg with a 1 billion dollar banknote.

The government introduced the new currency in the form of 1 dollar bond coins and 2 dollar bond notes to address the shortage of US dollars and to boost exports. But many say they aren’t buying into the government’s plan.

“They are only giving us bond notes because they don’t have real dollars,” Lovemore Chitongo, 40, a shoe salesman in Harare, told Agence France-Presse. “There is no way the bond note will be equal to the US dollar. The market will determine the exchange rate.”

Proof that government dictates and reality often don’t match up could be seen in the fact that Chitongo was charging $20 in US dollars per pair of shoes but 25 dollars in bond notes.

He would use the difference to buy US dollars on the black market, he told AFP.

What will shortly begin happening in Zimbabwe if citizens lose confidence in the new currency is that bond notes will be refused, or, if citizens are legally required to accept them, they will keep the US dollars and pass the bond notes on to someone else as quickly as possible.

Following the collapse of the Zimbabwean dollar in 2009 the country switched to a multi-currency system, according to Newsweek. At least nine currencies are now legal tender in Zimbabwe: the US dollar, the South African rand, the euro, the British pound, the Australian dollar, the Botswana pula, the Japanese yen, the Indian rupee and the Chinese yuan.

Not all are accepted by Zimbabwean traders, however. The US dollar is the most widely-used currency.

Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed under President Robert Mugabe’s chronic mismanagement. The nation’s leader since 1980, Mugabe sped redistribution of Zimbabwe’s farms from white landowners to blacks through forced confiscation beginning early last decade. Coupled with corruption and misconduct, droughts and an AIDS crisis, the nation of 13 million collapsed economically in 2009.

In fact, inflation was so bad it’s not certain whether anyone knows the exact rate at its peak.

While Zimbabwe officials cited an official inflation rate of 11.2 million percent in August 2008, the International Monetary Fund stated the country was suffering from 500 billion annual inflation rate and Newsweek asserted that Zimbabwe’s inflation rate reportedly peaked at “around 90 sextillion percent – or nine followed by 22 zeros.”

In an effort to win citizens to the new currency, the central bank recently launched an advertising campaign trying to allay people’s fears, saying retailers and businesses had agreed to accept the new currency.

However, opposition to bond notes has sparked fierce anti-government protests which have resulted in brutal police crackdowns.

Police on Monday broke up a protest planned by the pressure group Tajamuka in Harare and arrested the group’s spokesman, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The government is only treating the symptoms without attending to the problems,” Antony Hawkins, an economist at the University of Zimbabwe’s Business School, told the wire service. “We are not earning enough foreign currency and bond notes are not going to solve that. It will make the situation worse.”

In past few weeks, many Zimbabweans slept in lines outside banks so that they would have a better chance to withdraw US dollars from their accounts. Many are concerned that their US dollars were going to be converted into bond notes.

Banks, however, put severe limits on daily withdrawals, just $50 a day, up to $150 a week.

“I will take payments in bond notes but the big question is what do I do with them since some shops are refusing to accept them?” Lewis Mapira, a taxi driver in Harare, told AFP.

(Top: A Zimbabwean holds up 2 dollar bond notes, which began circulating Monday.)

Antiquated sign reflection of state of rural South

Bank of Ridge Spring 009 a

It’s difficult to tell not only the last time the Ridge Café’s sign was operational, but when the restaurant itself, located in Ridge Spring, SC, was even open for business.

Nevertheless, the sign is a classic:

“Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner”

“Steaks”

“Restaurant”

“Air Conditioned”

“Main St.”

“Open”

That’s a whole lot to pack in, as it appears every thing except perhaps “Steaks” once could be lit up with neon. There are even arrows along the front edge of the sign that would have pointed prospective diners to the entrance.

An indication of how old the sign itself is can be seen in the words “air conditioned.” Today, we take for granted the existence of air conditioning in any dining establishment in this neck of the woods. There was a time, however, when being able to boast of such an amenity was no small deal, especially on a scorching summer afternoon in the Deep South.

The opportunity to gather and discuss cotton prices, the weather or what the yahoos running the state in Columbia were up to would have been especially welcome in a nice air-conditioned café before taking to the fields or after a day spent working under the sweltering sun.

Sadly, the town has seen better days, much like the café.

At one time Ridge Spring had its own bank – the People’s Bank of Ridge Spring – where farmers could deposit earnings from cotton sales and borrow money for seed for the coming season. Now it’s just one of hundreds of branches of a North Carolina-based financial institution.

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Hard times hit South Carolina long before the Great Depression

black sharecroppers sc

The Great Depression is rightly regarded as the most tumultuous time, economically speaking, in US history.

But for South Carolinians, the downturn brought on by the 1929 stock market crash was simply a continuation of hard times that began shortly after the end of World War I nearly a decade earlier.

The state, hardly more economically diversified in 1920 than it had been in 1860, was still largely dependent on agriculture, and cotton was still the predominant crop.

Beginning in 1920, the state’s cotton industry was hit first by the loss of overseas markets and overproduction, then by the boll weevil and drought. Between 1920 and 1922, cotton production in the state dropped by more than two-thirds, according to Walter Edgar in South Carolina: A History.

Cotton prices plummeted from 38 cents a pound in 1919 to 17 cents a pound a year later and to less than 5 cents a pound by 1932, and by the early 1930s many South Carolinians found themselves destitute, both hungry and out of work.

No one was worse off during this period then the rural poor. Sharecroppers, forced to focus on the crop in the field, which held their only hope for any return on investment, had little time or money to raise food for themselves such as vegetables, cows, hogs or chickens.

“With such a meager diet, poor in nutrients and vitamins, malnutrition and disease ran rampant among the rural poor,” according to the book South Carolina and the New Deal.

“’New’ clothes were most often fashioned out of old clothes or flour or feed sacks,” wrote author Jack Irby Hayes Jr. “Children dropped out of school to look for work, because they did not have clothes to wear or were so malnourished or sick they were unable to attend.

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Grad to world: I deserve more, now!

Narcissus-Caravaggio

The Huffington Post has always seemed a bit of an odd creature. Described as an online news aggregator and blog, the site offers news and original content, and covers a variety of topics, including politics, entertainment, culture and comedy.

Yours truly isn’t a regular reader of The Huffington Post, but when I came across a story about a 24-year-old recent college graduate unhappy with the low pay associated with her first job – titled “I Feel Like I’m Just Starting My Life And I’m Already Miles And Miles Behind” – I initially thought it was a parody, something along the lines of The Onion.

Consider this excerpt from a first-person account by Monica Simon, a Penn State grad who works full time at an online advertising firm in Philadelphia and earns $23,000 a year after taxes:

“I like it, but it doesn’t pay as well as I’d like it to. So I’ve looked around for other jobs. But really, I can’t find any. I’m thinking about going back to school because I’m not even sure at this point if this job is going to hold out in the future. Right now I’m just up in the air on what steps to take next.”

Comic genius, right? Sadly, no. In fact, there’s more real-life woe-is-me bleating:

“I probably take in about $1,800 a month. My anxiety is constantly high about bills I have to pay,” Simon writes. “My student loans make me so nervous because I have my family co-sign on them. It’s not just my credit on the line. It’s theirs, too. That’s a constant anxiety that I have.

“Sometimes I get paid and then I have, maybe, $150 left over for the two weeks,” she adds. “I really don’t have enough for food and gas, so I rely a lot on my credit cards. I just feel I’m getting way behind where I want to be for my age. I feel I’m just starting my life and I’m already miles and miles behind.”

That’s right, this is no parody. This is an adult woman who is whining because her first job doesn’t, it appears, allow her to assume the lifestyle she expected to walk into right out of college.

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Canada to melt down 200K+ gold coins

10-Canadian gold coin

Concerned that its gold reserves would disappear with the outbreak of World War I, Canada withdrew nearly 250,000 newly minted gold coins from circulation in 1914.

The currency, minted between 1912 and 1914, represented the first gold coins ever minted by Ottawa. The coins would spend the next century in cloth bags inside a Bank of Canada vault.

Some 30,000 of the $5 and $10 pieces were offered for sale to collectors late last year, but the remainder will be melted down, part of the Conservative government’s efforts to help balance the country’s books.

The $10 coins sold for either $1,000 or $1,750 each, depending on whether they were classified as “premium” quality or not, according to the Globe and Mail.

Final figures connected with the sale, which just closed, won’t be known until spring, but a mint official confirmed that nearly all coins were sold.

The publication, in fact, described the sale as a creating a bit of gold rush among Canadian collectors.

“It’s the most popular topic for 2013, for sure,” said Michael Wang, a Vancouver coin collector who bought individual coins and also paid $12,000 for a six-coin set. “My wife was about to kill me when I told her I bought this thing.

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No career prepares you for Career Day

thank you

In my neck of the woods, one of the highlights of being a dad is being asked to make an appearance at “Career Day” when your child is in 4th grade. I was fortunate enough to be invited by my youngest to speak to her class recently, and, as always, it was a treat.

The favorite part of this year’s appearance, however, were the Thank Yous I received afterward.

The notes were decorated elaborately; many in a variety of colors and inks, and all with the unguarded sweet words of appreciation that seemingly only a child can muster.

It’s important to note that I work for a state banking association – a job I thoroughly enjoy, but not exactly what most 9- or 10-year olds would consider a glamorous position, or even one many at that age can comprehend.

As a result I opted to skip planned discussions on the Federal Reserve System and Quantitative Easing, and a proposed Q&A breakout session on the merits of returning to a bimetallic monetary standard.

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