For Sale: Memories of the Failures of Capitalism

When Jack Carlson wears his mother’s old green Lehman Brothers sweatshirt in New York City, people try to buy it on his back.

“People will just come to me and offer me money for it in restaurants,” said Mr Carlson, 33, founder of clothing company Rowing Blazers, which sells a contemporary version of the so-called bag. banker, a Wall Street. accessory dating from 1978. Branded merchandise of the defunct investment banks which were the main architects of the financial crisis in 2008: officially in fashion, albeit in an archi-allusive manner.

The buying and selling of products associated with the crash has paradoxically become a thriving niche market. The same is true of memories associated with other disasters in recent financial history, such as the dot-com bubble and the Enron scandal.

In a Bloomberg article in which financial experts described how they would personally invest or spend $ 1 million, Akshay Shah, founder of investment firm Kyma Capital, said: “When companies go bankrupt, they leave behind reminders of the power of business and the effects of time. EBay sellers, he noted, picked up branded items and then offered them for sale “at a fairly substantial multiple after an appropriate amount of time – like the $ 500 Lehman post-it. “(Seeming to be cautious, Mr. Shah said,” The key to success here would be volume of products and patience. “)

Nowadays, however, there are also more affordable items, a Lehman Brothers branded baby bib ($ 59.59 on eBay) and a emergency escape kit ($ 98.99). A Shearson Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. certificate dated 1987 will set you back $ 295, even if the stock it once represented is worth nothing. And an Enron “Conducting a Commercial Business” booklet is on sale for $ 395 on the “Exchange Gifts and Collectibles” website. Wall Street treasures.

“I’ve sold a lot of Enron memorabilia lately,” said Scott Davidson, 38, an accountant and financial planner who has run Wall Street Treasures and has been selling financial-related memorabilia through various channels for nine years. “There is a lot of appetite. Everyone loves a good scandal.

Among the current items that Mr. Davidson has in stock is a framed promotional piece that displays a “Most Innovative Company Award who went to Enron four years in a row. It is now on sale for $ 1,495. “Of course the only innovative thing about them was their chart of accounts,” he said. “The innovation was the fraud.”

In a disorienting boomerang of value, a once valuable stock certificate becomes utterly worthless, and then, in an afterlife as a collector’s item, becomes more valuable than it was before. Why, you might ask, does anyone buy this stuff? Financial scandals and crises, which have impoverished millions of people, can seem like strange fodder for office decor or workout sweatshirts.

“I think part of it has to do with collective identity,” Davidson said. “So many people owned one piece of Enron at a time, through their mutual funds. Everyone knew the story. Personal identity is also part of it; he is often contacted by former employees of missing companies looking for memories of their time there.

The popularity of these cultural artifacts has led to a whole sub-genre of new ramifications and tributes, like the Rowing Blazers Banker’s Bag. There are two versions, emblazoned with “Duke & Duke Commodities Brokers” or “Pierce & Pierce Mergers and Acquisitions” – two fictitious companies from movies.

To produce it, Mr. Carlson worked with Goalkeeper Brooks, the company founded by Joan Killian Gallagher who made the original canvas bag in 1978, which came to wire “New York Finance” in the 1980s and 1990s. “It has been a staple for interns, lectures from IB, special events, elite clubs, associations, college and prep school meetings, offsite meetings, corporate programs and incentive groups, ”proclaims the Warden Brooks.

The Rowing Blazers version ($ 135) is one of the company’s most popular items. “The banker’s bag is such a polarizing object,” Mr. Carlson said. “For some people it’s that very important status symbol, and for others it’s kind of a symbol of everything that has gone wrong.” Rowing Blazers also makes a yellow hat ($ 48) that says “FINANCE», In black letters – which is, according to him, the best-selling item on the site.

Sometimes people who wear FINANCE hats are just people who work in finance and think finance is cool, Carlson said. But perhaps more often, it’s an ironic gesture. “The people who buy the banker’s hat or bag are not necessarily people who idolize these extinct financial institutions,” he said. “There is almost like a sense of ownership or a sense of empowerment that goes with it.” (Someone who works in finance emailed Mr Carlson accusing him of mastering financial literacy, he said.)

The popularity of these articles surprised him. “I really didn’t expect it to take off like this,” he said. “It’s so weird.” Every now and then, Mr. Carlson will sell vintage items, like a knit Merrill Lynch sweater emblazoned with bulls that went from $ 300 to $ 400, but they sold out very quickly.

This buying and selling of finance related memorabilia is a cousin of scriptophilia, collecting stock certificates: a niche pastime among, primarily, finance professionals and history buffs. Paper titles and bond certificates, which are gradually being withdrawn from circulation, are often very decorative. Bob Kerstein, 68, founded scriptophilia.com, the primary website for buying and selling stock and bond certificates, in 1996. It now has about 14,000 on the website, ranging from 19th century mining company share certificates To Request Jeeves Stock released in 2001, with Jeeves himself at the top.

“The financial crisis is one of our biggest sellers right now,” Mr. Kerstein said. “We have mortgage bonds on our website, and people really like them because that was really the starting point of the Great Recession.” When it started, he said, collectors were more interested in older certificates, but now “railways are more dead than a doorknob,” he said. “Modern certificates are more popular. “

Other popular items include Trump-branded stock certificates and those from old dot-com companies. Even business names, like MP3.com and Fashionmall.com, can instantly conjure up stories of the over-speculation that occurred during the web’s heyday, when it seemed like almost everyone with a website could find investors.

“Having one on the wall in your office can remind you that in the stock market you can make a lot of money, but you can also lose a lot,” Kerstein said.

The idea that objects can impute lessons on the follies of money management is not new. William Goetzmann, professor at the Yale School of Management, is the co-author of the book “The Great Mirror of Folly: Finance, Culture, and the Crash of 1720”, inspired in part by memories of the first great stock market crash.

This crash, known as the South Sea Bubble, inspired a series of albums and satirical cartoons that highlighted the absurdities of speculation. Playing cards even came out of this din printed with satirical drawings; people may have played cards that scoffed at the feverish atmosphere of commerce and speculation that led to the crash.

“Saving artefacts from stock market crises is not just about saying, ‘We want something to remember this,’” Goetzmann said. “It’s about having something that you can use in an ironic or satirical way to force yourself to realize that human behavior can lead to these crises.”

This seems to be part of what is at work in the obsession with Lehman Brothers and Enron memories – not only to commemorate scandals or crises, but also to treat them with irony. Sometimes that means buying and selling in a speculative fashion that mimics the very thing you are laughing at.

Or, sometimes it’s easier than that. As Mr. Davidson said, “What else are you going to ask your financial advisor? “

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