BOGGS by Lawrence Weschler


A Comedy of Values
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J.S.G. Boggs, the artist who draws money, is revisited by New Yorker staffer Weschler (Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, 1995; Calamities of Exile, 1998; etc.). Boggs’s artistry involves transactions in which he exchanges his handmade copies of currency, at face value, for goods and services. There’s no trickery. The bills aren—t tendered as real; they are just his rendition of money. But that’s not the extent of his inventiveness. Boggs then sells to art collectors any change received and sufficient details so’that the eager collectors can hunt down and buy the graven images—at considerably more than face value. Thus, the base materials of paper and ink are transformed into sweet lucre, fetching well into six figures in the secondary market. Everyone should be delighted with the unique spondulix artistry, if not the metaphysics of the thing. Nevertheless, certain numismatic authorities worldwide have taken a dim view of Boggs and his issuances (which are surely more like marketed derivatives than crass counterfeits). The US Treasury has shown extreme interest. The central part of the book (which is a reworking of earlier essays) recounts the trial at the Old Bailey wherein the Bank of England charged Boggs with the crime of reproducing Her Majesty’s money—despite the fact that the accused drew original works, while pound notes are simply numbered engravings. As courtroom reporter, Weschler relishes the legal antics. He also offers a brief profile of his protagonist, a history of trompe l’oeil portraits of folding money, and a quick review of the philosophy and history of cash. Like his fellow New Yorker, the late Joseph Mitchell, he does it in lapidary style. An intelligent, ironic, and entertaining text about making money, from an accomplished reporter. (illustrations)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-226-89395-2
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999


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