Tuesday, March 20, 2007

All that glitters is gold

I had a rather 'rich' morning viewing tons and tons of gold bars in a vault...it's true, really! OK, it wasn't like I came into some super inheritance or anything, before anyone gets any ideas!! I went on a tour of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. I'd recommend it for 3 reasons - it's short, it's interesting, and it's not on your usual tourist list of 'Things I must do/see in New York'. It's free, and all you need to do is reserve a place in advance.

While you wait for the tour to start, there's a very detailed collection of monetary coins and notes of the world, dating back to the days of the barter system, courtesy the American Numismatic Society. Of special note is the 1933 Double Eagle coin, which is basically a gold coin which has a value of US$20, but was sold at an auction for US$ 7.59 million!!! It has an interesting history which I'm not going to get into right now, but I wholeheartedly suggest glancing at it - HERE!

The vault of course is the most attractive part of the tour, and it does not disappoint. The Federal Bank of New York essentially holds gold bars belonging to about 36 foreign governments, central banks and international organizations - only about 5% of U.S gold reserves are actually held here, the majority being in Fort Knox. The vault rests on the rock bottom of Manhattan Island and is 50 feet below sea level. The door to the vault (there is only one), which was installed in 1914 and has not been changed since (except for regular maintenance), consists of a 90-ton steel cylinder which is rotated 90 degrees to achieve airtight and watertight sealing. It is completely manual, which means that even if the electricity were to go off, it would not hamper the security of the bars. I went through this door and while I was there, a bank official was showing some other officials how the cylinder moved, as a result of which I got to see the entire contraption in motion - and it certainly did seem a 'masterpiece of protective engineering', as the brochure I later on read, noted. And it needs to be, with US$140 billion in gold currently being held inside!

Mostly for the entertainment of young visitors (I'm not ancient, but I mean schoolkids here!), there are a range of interactive educational games once you finish the tour, and I had a blast with them. I certainly learnt my bit about the monetary system for the day!

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