5 in gold

Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. And it will leave you unfulfilled. (Barack Obama)

“I saw the figure 5 in gold,” wrote William Carlos Williams in 1921, as a fire engine rushed by on a dark rainswept lower-Manhattan street. Published as The Great Figure, the poem inspired a painting by Charles Demuth a few years later, in 1928. First, here’s the poem:

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

And now the painting –

The Figure 5 in Gold (Demuth, 1928)

Describing its importance, Judith H. Dobrzynski wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "It's the best work in a genre Demuth created, the ‘poster portrait.’ ... it's a decidedly American work made at a time when U.S. artists were just moving beyond European influences ... a moment of cross-pollination that led to American Modernism. And it anticipates Pop art."

I, too, am inspired by The Figure 5 poem. Actually, more by the third and fourth lines, ‘I saw the figure 5 in gold.’ I have too! But I see five one-ounce gold Eagle coins:

Why five? Well, because the value of five ounces of gold equates to the amount of money I want to earn each month. Before taxes, at today’s spot gold price, about $100,000 per year. Why gold? Because it’s reasonably inflation-proof, easy at any time to calculate what I should be earning. Why not more? It turns out that when you go over about $75,000 per year, you don’t get any happier. And, in my own experience, I can assure you that over $100,000, your stress level goes up. You don’t get paid that kind of money for nothing.

No, there’s an income sweet spot – to make whatever five ounces of gold are worth – each month, month after month, year after year. As President Obama noted, you don’t want to focus your life solely on making a buck. Just enough to be comfortable. And that’s not so bad!

I have seen the Figure 5 in Gold. And you can too. But since you like to draw, or paint, we’ll first check out the world of fine art, which you might like more than working for a big corporation.

A note to potential coin designers – The front of the US Double Eagle coin, originally designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the country's $20 gold piece minted from 1907 to 1933, carries the image of a full length figure of Lady Liberty holding a torch in her right hand and an olive branch in her left. In the background can be seen the images of the sun rising and the United States Capitol dome. The reverse side of the coin bears the image of a male bald eagle carrying an olive branch, flying towards his mate in a nest with their hatchlings.

But there was a little problem. President Roosevelt called up the US Mint early in 1933 after he was sworn in, and ordered production stopped and all gold coins melted down. But 14 escaped! And today are worth a fortune. What a story!

Tip – if you make a design for metal, keep the lines thinner than you normally would, as the stamping die causes lines to be thicker than on your artwork.

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