Saturday, April 16, 2011

NY Federal Reserve Bank: 33 Liberty btwn William and Pearl

Visiting the NY Federal Reserve Bank takes some advance planning (they do not take walk-ins), but it is well worth the free tour to get a peek into a cornerstone of our national monetary system.  To make reservations for your own visit, check out and you should be able to find an opening about 3 weeks out.

The photo at left is the uninviting front entrance with original ironwork lanterns by Samuel Yellin. 

The tour includes a museum with an exhibit co-sponsored by the American Numismatic Society, and they put on display a collection of some of the most valuable coins and medals from around the world.  I'm not a coin collector, but I would think that for those who are, this is Mecca. The more than 800 examples from the Society's noted collection spans three millennia and includes a double eagle $20 coin that was last auctioned for over $7 million!

Just beyond the hallway (photo at right), which the Bank's architects York and Sawyer modeled after the the Strozzi Palace in Florence, Italy, you can learn about the central banking functions of the Federal Reserve System.  They have a hologram of a gold brick so that visitors can see the markings "up close."  They also have an interactive, multimedia exhibit called FedWorks, which allows visitors to participate in monetary policy quizes and to learn a little about the Fed's role in the economy.  I particularly liked the exhibit that tests visitors' ability to identify counterfeit bills.

After about 10 minutes in that exhibit, the tour moves on to a video of the cash processing system (NY's is now located in New Jersey).  This video explains how the NY Federal Reserve Bank is one of 12 regional federal reserve banks around the country that provide maintenance of currency, security and liquidity for the U.S. economy.

Finally, the tour is topped with a visit to the below ground and highly-secured gold vault (some 30 feet below the NY subway system) which has been in place since the early 1920s.  If you are a fan of gold, this is the part of the tour for you, but you may want to skip this if you are claustrophobic -- they simulate a closure which is pretty awesome.  Although no currency is currently backed by gold, the NY Federal Reserve (none of the other regional banks do this) holds gold for the U.S. (although most of the U.S.'s gold is held at Fort Knox), international organizations like the IMF, and foreign countries.  Today's tour was extra special in that there was some confidential transfer going on so there was a pallet laden with gold bars outside of the cages that normally would block such a clear viewing (there hasn't been a transfer in over 2 years). 

At the end of the tour, they led us back up to the locker level (no phones, cameras or purses are permitted) and gave us each a parting gift of real shredded money (they had explained earlier that bills that are worn are shredded routinely).

The tour was interesting, educational, and certainly something to add to the unique to NYC list. 

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