Friday, September 30, 2016

Short Snorters

A short snorter is paper money, signed by people who share a common experience. During World War II, with 16 million men and women in the American armed forces, the custom spread rapidly. After the war, it faded just as quickly.
(This is based on a prior publication for the Georgia Numismatic Association GNA Journal, Summer, 2002. The changes here resulted from further research and fact-checking.)

Although soldiers and sailors knew about short snorters, they first were popular with airmen because the tradition began in the 1920s among barnstormers. According to a September 26, 1984, story in Coin World, a pilot named Jack Ashcraft started it in August 1925 among the aviators of the Gates Flying Circus. The air show had a supply of stage money. Ashcraft signed his name on a play dollar. He then approached Clyde Pangborn. Ashcraft asked Pangborn if he had a dollar. He did. Ashcraft told him to sign his name on it. What for? You’ll see… Pangborn later flew into aviation history by crossing the Pacific with Hugh Herndon, Jr. Short snorters began a history of their own.
            A similar story is repeated in The Happy Bottom Riding Club: the Life and Times of Pancho Barnes by Lauren Kellen (Random House, 2000). Barnes was the granddaughter of Civil War balloonist Thaddeus S. C. Lowe. A barnstormer herself, and holder of a speed record, she played a male pilot in the Howard Hughes production Wings (1927). Her dude ranch and bar was a hangout for test pilots from Edwards Air Force Base. A “short snort” is a pour of whiskey. If you signed a bill with someone and later could not produce it when challenged, you had to buy the next round of drinks.  It is important to understand that this was during Prohibition, when alcohol was supposed to be illegal.

Any occasion could motivate the creation of short snorters. The crew of an airplane would swap notes the first time they crossed the equator, or landed on foreign soil.  During World War II, the practice spread from aviators to the soldiers, sailors, and marines they carried.  Wounded men going home would collect a signed paper dollar from each buddy: “When you get home, pal, have a snort on me.”
            During World War II, troops were paid in the currency of the country they were occupying. Fighting in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific, they could be paid in Dutch guilders, British pounds, or French francs, as well as American dollars. It was common for warriors, medics, and civilian contractors to build long streamers of short snorters in those and many other currencies. Having the longest roll was itself soon a challenge.
            It also mattered who autographed the money. The signatures of General Eisenhower, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Bob Hope are among the notables. The rolls became living diaries.
            You can find many stories online. Among them are the attributions of USAF LTC Edward Konyati, who not only had an impressive roll of his own, but also went on to collect and identify others, making it a lifelong hobby.  (See, for example, this August 20, 2000, story archived at the Orlando Sentinel.   Trans World Airlines (TWA) Captain Larry Girard authenticated a short snorter from the Air Transport Command of World War II.  His story from the June 9, 1980, issue of Skyliner magazine is archived here. 

But when the war ended, so did the tradition.

Previously on NecessaryFacts

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