November 10, 2010

The Lighter Side of Utter Catastrophe, and Stock Market Poetry

After writing my recent note on Eddie Cantor, I did a search on Amazon and was delighted to find that “Caught Short: A Saga of Wailing Wall Street,” a book by Cantor about the Crash, was available. Ten bucks and a week or so later, I was holding said book in my hot little hands - see pics to the right (note to those considering purchase of the book - it does contain some offensive humor).

All in all, the book isn't up to Cantor's top standards, but I've taken the liberty of editing a few of the best jokes into a Tonight Show-style monologue:

The night of the worst crash, I was too scared to go back home, so I went to a big hotel in the city and asked for a room. The clerk looked at me and asked “What for? Sleeping or jumping?”

But that's not as bad as the two fellows who jumped from a bridge together. Seems they had a joint account ...

But seriously, the crash has had some terrible consequences. Here's a few detailed statistics we gathered afterward.

- 150,207,904 new nickels are being produced by the US Mint in 24 hour shifts - for customers who never took the subway before.

- 48,286 nightclubs throughout the country are now catering nightly to 263,679 people - unfortunately, all of them are employees.

- 3,795 women bought certain investment trusts because they had Goldman-Sachs appeal. [Note: interesting that people were making sarcastic jokes about GS even back then ... ]

- 87,429 married men in New York City had to leave their sweethearts ... and go back to their wives.

A little note on the book - this was a quickie small hardcover rushed out after the initial “Great Crash” in 1929. I was amazed to look inside the front cover and see that the first printing was in November, 1929. As all of you no doubt remember from my special commemorative summary last October, the initial Great Crash was roughly a week-long affair starting about Oct. 23, 1929 - so, this book was printed a month or less after the event. Meanwhile, with all our modern technology it now seems to take at least 3 months after a catastrophic event or scandal before the first crappy quickie books start appearing ...

And, another humorous bonus - from time to time the Journal published little poems about the stock market. For some reason, I can't get enough of these ... so here's a little collection for your reading pleasure.

Wednesday, Nov 1, 1929: Dow 273.51 +15.04 (5.8%)
The Trader's Lament:
[Note: This appeared a couple of days after the initial Great Crash. The Dow, after hitting a peak of 381.17 on Sept. 3 (not reached again until 1954) had declined to 325.51 at the open Tuesday, Oct. 23. The Crash took place over the following week, ending with a drop of 30.57 points to 230.07 on Oct. 29, AKA Black Tuesday, on which 16.410M shares traded (not reached again until 1968).]
They'd said: 'Your list is long and wide and also well diversified.'
Later: 'Margin! Send it quick! Your holdings look a little sick.'
O, boil me well in Standard Oil! I'd slipped from Anaconda's coil
when Purity touched fifty-five - down forty-four, O Man Alive!
I wriggled like a frightened eel from out the avalanche of Steel.
'Margin!' 'Hold on, I'm nearly broke; Sell Pennsylvania Coal & Coke.'
They'd sold my Motors, sold my Copper; when Adolf Gobel came a cropper
they backed me up against the wall and pickled me in Alcohol. ...
Farewell to old AT&T and all I owned from A to Z
had vanished like the morning dew (they had to take my IOU).
I'm sick and tired of raids and marches; I've nothing now but fallen arches.
Alas, that this should come to pass - Garcon, turn on that Brooklyn Gas!”

Wednesday, July 9, 1930: Dow 219.08 +0.75 (0.3%)
“In stocks of wood no longer should one bear incarceration,
but hand and foot are many put 'in stocks' for long duration.
At each 'new low' as the markets go locked up in stocks securely -
for a long time yet some folks will sweat bound hand and foot most surely. - Gordon Price”

Wednesday, September 10, 1930: Dow 244.29 +1.45 (0.6%)
Ode to the new high-speed stock ticker
“A clever contraption within its black box -
Its figures flash out swift and sure on all stocks;
No matter how hectic the trading may get,
what millions it mounts to, its pace shall be met.
Ah, had we but had it last fall 'neath glass bell -
Twelve million, sixteen - whole world wanting to sell -
those agonized hours when the truth none could know -
the old ticker smothered because 'twas too slow.
This dainty swift prodigy, blithely abreast
of any big market, such fears sets at rest.
And yet this great boon - human nature is such -
at moment of getting it doesn't seem much.
Like Flora McFlimsy of Washington Square,
(that worthy young lady with nothing to wear)
this nifty speed marvel that's just come on view,
has cause for complaint - it has nothing to do.”

Wednesday, February 18, 1931: Dow 179.55 -3.33 (1.8%)
Poem by F. Caverly
... A thousand dollars send by check, your margin with us to protect.
With faith in Steel I held the stock; more margin sent from cash in sock.
A 10 point loss I took in Steel, again to try the gambling wheel.
Bought Woolworth, Can and Brothers Burns; To beat the game one never learns ...
As traders will, bought Radio, but picked it high and sold it low ...
I tried again; good rails I bought; they, too, went down and havoc wrought ...
The fool I was! I stayed and played; Put up more cash - more tips I played.
But now I'm wise. Of stocks bereft, all profits gone - no margin left;
Without a penny to my name, I'm off for life that market game."

Thursday, February 26, 1931: Dow 190.72 -3.64 (1.9%)
Poem by A. Ellard
"Out of the gloom that covers me, dark and dank as grave's grim sod,
I thank what lucky stars there be, For my imperishable 'wad'. ...
It matters not how fares the soul, So sorely tried by Wall Street's god;
I am the master of my 'Roll'; I am the captain of my 'Wad.'"
[Note: This is an improved version of the Victorian poem 'Invictus,' by W.E. Henley:
"Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul. ..."]

Monday, April 27, 1931: Dow 151.98 -3.78 (2.4%)
Poem by F. Caverly

Now isn't it a funny thing That tips are all bologney?
I started once with that 'shoe string' To swell my patrimony.
When I was told some stock to buy -- Tip, hot as the equator --
I rushed right in and bought it high; That's what they told me later.
They told me next 'twas best to sell; Short, that's the market patter;
Good news came out my stock rose --- hell! To you it doesn't matter.
With just two ways for stocks to go -- Up or down, or rise or slump --
Why doesn't some one really know One in which the cat will jump?

Monday, May 18, 1931: Dow 142.95 -1.54 (1.1%)
Poem by F. Caverly

"You hear it said, where men powwow, 'The finest stocks are cheap;
A man should really buy 'em now, if he'd a fortune reap.
Across the Board the best blue chips are yearning to be bought.'
And then they all have further dips to fret a mind distraught.
That frequent urge harasses me: 'Man, buy - get on the job.'
As if I were, perhaps, J.P., or Henry Ford, or Schwab.
Four times have stocks seemed at their low, (some say this is the fifth),
While men cried 'Buy, you dumb bozo,' but failed to say what with."


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  4. [quote]
    I was amazed to look inside the front cover and see that the first printing was in November, 1929. As all of you no doubt remember from my special commemorative summary last October, the initial Great Crash was roughly a week-long affair starting about Oct. 23, 1929 - so, this book was printed a month or less after the event. Meanwhile, with all our modern technology it now seems to take at least 3 months after a catastrophic event or scandal before the first crappy quickie books start appearing ...

    I, too, was surprised to read this. I mean, with modern computerized typesetting, etc., getting a book to press must take less time than it ever did.

    After thinking about it a bit more, however, perhaps the speed at which Cantor's book came out isn't so remarkable after all.

    What I mean is: I doubt if there was a stampede of folks trying to get their books to press a month after the crash when getting something to eat (rather than something to press) was the big concern of the time.

    (Perhaps that might be a topic for a future entry on a slow day? Something like: "State of the publishing industry in 193x.")

    Anyway, it's pure conjecture on my part, but I'm guessing that Cantor could pick and choose as far as publishers went right after the crash. Perhaps they were all too glad to have something to do in the fall of 1929. [shrugs]

    Incidentally, any interest in parting with your copy of the book in question? Or is "not very good," but still good enough to hang onto? :)

  5. Whoops! Sorry, for the typo.

    That last line should read, "Or is -it- not very good..." [blushes]

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