February 2002

Museum Chronicles History of U.S. Capital Markets

By Steven Rubin, CPA, Deloitte & Touche LLP, New York City

The universe of museums is broad, encompassing everything from the Louvre to more modest collections appealing to smaller but no less enthusiastic audiences. New York City is home to an estimated 800 museums, including the Museum of American Financial History in lower Manhattan.

The building, a few blocks from the New York and American Stock Exchanges, is across the street from the well-known "Charging Bull" sculpture and once served as headquarters of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company. Centuries earlier, Alexander Hamilton's law offices were located on the same site. The museum was founded in 1988 by John Herzog, a Merrill Lynch executive who is the current chair of its board of trustees. In 1999 the museum became an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, and it has the distinction of being the nation's only independent public museum dedicated to capitalism, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise.

Through its collections and resident experts, the museum showcases the history of Wall Street, the development of capital markets, and the movers and shakers of American business, from Hamilton's initial designs for a national economy through the rise of the dot-com entrepreneur and the "New Economy."

Through March 6 the museum is hosting a traveling exhibition of 40 unique, antique, and contemporary coin banks. The exhibit chronicles the history of this icon of American culture and its evolution from the traditional ceramic piggy bank, designed to teach children to save their pennies, into sophisticated gadgets and marketing pieces. Other temporary exhibitions have examined the careers and lives of financial titans Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan, the artistry of African currency, and the history of financial journalism. Permanent exhibitions feature vintage stock and bond certificates; photographs; archival corporate documents, prospectuses, and annual reports; bank notes, checks, and engravings; actual ticker tape from the morning of October 29, 1929; and a recreated 1960s-era brokerage firm trading desk. A working 1870-era replica of Thomas Edison's universal stock ticker is connected to the museum's automated guest ledger and prints personalized souvenir messages on ticker tape.

The NYSSCPA has offered to help the museum identify suitable materials for a possible future exhibit on the role of the accounting profession and private-sector accounting standards-setting bodies in promoting efficient capital markets.

The museum recently joined with the American Friends of the British Museum and the American Numismatic Society in hosting an event to commemorate the introduction of the Euro. Last year, as part of its mission to promote financial literacy, the museum collaborated with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and other public and private sector partners to launch "Money Math: Lessons for Life." The nation's first math-based financial literacy curriculum, it is aimed at teaching middle-school students the fundamentals of personal finance, including lessons on income, saving, taxes, and budgeting.

Museum membership is available and includes a subscription to the quarterly journal Financial History. For a complimentary copy, CPA Journal readers may send an e-mail to the museum's communications director, Kristin Aguilera, at kaguilera@financialhistory.org. The museum's website (www. financialhistory.org) is a fountain of information, featuring items from the museum's impressive collection, a financial history trivia quiz, and downloadable computer wallpaper depicting vintage stock and bond certificates. Whether visited in person or via the web, the museum is a treasure trove of interest to all financial professionals, financial history buffs, and curiosity-seekers.

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