Saturday, December 15, 2018

Barbara Shermund: Diving for Greenbacks?

In decades past, it was a common practice for well-off cruise ship passengers to toss coins overboard at natives who would dive for them. This was a popular practice in the West Indies and elsewhere in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly with silver coins. The passengers found it entertaining and the divers, mostly boys or young men, found it financially rewarding. Such diving for coins is depicted on the cover of the old Life magazine for April 1936. Barbara Shermund's society matron has neglected to carry the requisite small change.
Barbara Shermund
Life, April 1936

Scan by Dick Buchanan
With this cover, Ms. Shermund brings the sensibility of her New Yorker work to Life magazine. It therefore seems fair to ask why this work didn't appear instead on the cover of the New Yorker where perhaps it might have been a more natural fit. One reason could be its similarity to the work of Helen E. Hokinson, who painted a series of New Yorker covers depicting her own society matron on a world tour.
Helen E. Hokinson
The New Yorker, March 7, 1931

Life magazine was to cease publication in November of 1936 and be replaced by Henry Luce's new magazine of the same name. Interestingly, though, within a year of the appearance of Shermund's Life cover, the New Yorker did publish a cover depicting natives diving for coins. It is by Roger Duvoisin.
Roger Duvoisin
The New Yorker, February 6, 1937

Note:  Once again I give my sincere thanks to Dick Buchanan, who now makes his thirty-eighth contribution to this blog with his scan of Barbara Shermund's splendid Life magazine cover. Dick's archive is known throughout the land as the Dick Buchanan Cartoon Clip Files. He contributes regularly to Mike Lynch Cartoons, most recently a festive post entitled "From the Dick Buchanan Files: Winter and Holiday Gag Cartoons 1939 - 1955." I highly recommend it. Heck, it's enough to make me want to learn how to turn on my scanner.

Does this sort of coin diving still occur anywhere today? Was it done in by World War II? By inflation? By clad coinage? Elie Wiesel criticizes the practice in Night (1956) on moral grounds.

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