Published in Saptamana Financiara
Bucharest, Romania
5 December 2005

Once upon a never time*
(fictional banknotes)
By Marin Marian Balasa

In the previous issue of "Financial Weekly" we talked about Antarctica's money. In this issue I will continue to talk about the same subject. Only this time the article won't describe the real, legal and special currency. It will talk about fictional money, as much as it would talk about a fictional Antarctica, an Antarctica that becomes a sort of Atlantis.

One interesting aspect is that the design of these banknotes is not entirely fictional. To be more precise, the concept behind them is original; however, many of the iconographical elements, faces, symbols, drawings and even some of the ornaments are part of an old and very diverse collection of banknotes. The imaginary dollars of an imaginary Atlantis are collages - they are obtained by combining images and symbols that already existed, some of financial origins, some of literary roots. And when new images or ornaments are introduced, they mimic the "reality" in a very convincing way, although without failing to include a hint of strangeness.

If a face featuring bizarre tattoos and the ruins of Athens's Acropolis prove this, then let's take a look at, say, the seven dollar bill. The "Winter" edition of this is dedicated to the explorer Ronald Sutcliffe and his wife Eunice. In the 19th century Sutcliffe was the first one to step on the white continent and became the Leader of Expeditions for a colony formed by a group of utopians. The back of the banknote illustrates the Seven Wonders of the World: the Egyptian pyramids, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

As you can see we are faced with money that incorporates the more or less mysterious symbols of the world. All of these introduce a country - called Nadiria, as we will see later on - that is imagined as an ideal and superior development of the human existence and its vision. As such, the Nadiric dollars are speaking about what is more profound, initiated and therefore superior in the development of human thinking and intuition.

The banknotes of this dreamed Antarctica, which may be better described as a colony of American pioneers or members of a sect, feature many peculiarities. One of them, as we have already observed, is the existence of four variations of each banknote of a specific value. To be more precise, there are four editions: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

As we've already shown, these banknotes not entirely invented. They are not toys or gadgets either. Greater than being false, they are fictional. The illustrations are created to support stories or, to be more specific, a romantic and scholarly fairy tale. They are destined to stimulate your fantasy and your imagination. They are even called oneiric (dream) dollars on their website. And maybe this is exactly why their illustrations are composed of already existing images and ornaments that are mixed with special symbols and images inspired by speculative books and sciences. It is similar to how a night's dream or an imaginary fantasy associates and amalgamates real faces and patterns in its own synthesis. But the dream element is underlined with an obvious ostentation especially when the paradisiacal and erotic-sensual theme is present.

As we have already noticed, the value of these utopian-oneiric-fictional Antarctica-Atlantis dollars does not illustrate an orderly succession, but one that is equally irrational and mathematical-metaphysical. Ignoring the rigid rules of socio-economic efficiency, the figures follow some "natural" rules here, producing banknotes with values of 1, 4, 7 , 13, 28, 52, 91 and 365 dollars. Any of these are sold for the real-world value of US$14.95 each.

The whole story, sustained by the images of these banknotes and the banknotes themselves, are the creation of the contemporary New Yorker Stephen Barnwell. He is the inventor of Nadiria - the lost colony of Antarctica.

Nadiria is historically placed between 1838 and 1899 and was founded by Samuel Brundt and his wife, Constance. If Samuel was a visionary with a philosophy that is equally intellectually-holistic and revolutionary, Constance was a master of the prophetic dream. In New York she founded her own church and community that initially had only 16 members. It was named The Church of Spiritual Commerce. In his book "The Great Transaction", Brundt wrote that "Life is an exchange of heat, energy, force, love, hate, art. There are spiritual and material transactions occurring every minute. Our monetary system is a microcosm of this." The intellectual culture, the dream and the philosophical vision were at the essence of this community. Therefore the publishing house and typography of Nadiria became their most important instruments, and were the first to be brought to the arctic land. After initially founding a transitional colony, called Constonia, on the shore of Venezuela's tropical jungle, the colony moved to Antarctica. Building a complex heating system, they managed to create an underground village. There they would have lived a life full of revelations, realizations and tragedies until the fall of the colony. The "Codex Celastrus" - a book containing information about bizarre sciences, most of them deciphered from the ruins of a lost Antarctic civilization - became the colonists' bible.

Regarding the colony's dollars, the writer tells us that they were used as a form of "social engineering". The natural numbers system 1, 4, 7, 13, 28, 52, 91, 365 automatically introduces a different form of thinking, and the founder of the colony, Samuel Brundt, believed that his numerology and banknotes would raise the level of consciousness and knowledge. This money would have an influence over the power of the colonists' subconscious and their dreams.

Stephen Barnwell's invented story continues even during the 20th century. He fantasizes that in 1901 an attempt to discover Nadiria is lead by the International Geographic Society and succeeded in tracing the lost remains of the utopian Antarctic colony. The "International Society of Nadiria" is founded in Paris in 1925, followed by the "Nadiria Historical Society" in USA in 1932. Their purpose is to recover and spread the knowledge acquired by the Nadirians. In 1953 the oneiric dollars - or, to be more precise, nave and artisan reproductions of the originals- are surfacing on the night club scene of Greenwich Village in New York. Starting with 1967 they become popular within the hippie culture, being associated with its drug, music and poetry culture. It is believed that even today the oneiric dollars have the power to provoke and control dreams and an altered state of consciousness. In 1999, the Nadiria Historical Society asked the Antarctica Film Arts company to restore and commercialize the Antarctic dollars. The AFA company might be imaginary or might be the artistic studio of the illustrator-graphic artist and writer Stephen Barnwell.

Anyway, coming from his hand and mind, literary phantasm or imaginary delirium and its visually supportive elements - illustration, images and symbolic games graphically transcribed in banknotes - are two realities that intertwine almost to become one.

So, as we all know, money has a powerful effect over consciousness. In general, the oral culture stresses the negative, delirious and possessive mental states that money can fuel. However, in Barnwell's case, this idea or truth is brought to an intellectual positive extreme. It is speculated and proved, that money can become a support for dreaming and literary, mythologized, utopian, innocent, romantic, idyllic and gracious fantasizing.



* "A fost odata, ca niciodata" is the traditional way to start a story, which places the time and place of the action in something which would be closely described as "neverland"

Copyright 2005 Marin Marian Balasa

Many thanks to Catalin Lazia for his translation.