Money speaks in dozens of languages, and most of them could be heard, if not understood, Tuesday in the East Building of the National Gallery, when the Treasury Department hosted a reception for officers of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which are holding an international conference in Washington.
Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal shook an estimated 1,500 hands in the receiving line and spent most of the evening telling visitors from such remote areas as Singapore, Finland and Kenya how happy he was to see them. Circulating through the vast, open spaces of the building, the international bankers, a quiet, conservatively dressed, predominantly male group, did not seem nearly that numerous.
Conversations were devoted largely to shop talk ("The minister was very angry; he sacked the entire board and we got a whole new one . . ." "The Senate gave us everything we asked for, which was much more than we expected . . .") or admiration for the striking building, which many of the foreign guests had not seen before. In the enormous, open spaces with their largely triangular motifs, even the men who control much of the world's international money flow seemed dwarfed. "The squares among the triangles," one observer remarked. "You could lose 6,000 people in here," said another.
Possibly the happiest guest at the party was Stella hackle, director of the Bureau of the Mint, who dame to the reception from a victory party celebrating the approval of the new Susan B. Anthony dollar in the House of Representatives. "It will be a very popular and useful coin," she said, "and it will be a sign of justice for more than half of the American population. We're going to start production in January and have half a billion in inventory so that everybody can have them when they go into distribution early in July."
The new dollar coin, bearing the first non-allegorical female figure in the history of American coinage, will be between the quarter and half dollar in size and will have an 11-sided inner border for easy recognition by the blind. "It will weigh only one-third as much as the percent dollar or four quarters, so it will be easy for people to carry around plenty of them," Hackel said.
"We have had so many great American women, it was hard to pick one. Betsy Ross was suggested, and Eleanor Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman - Treasury received over 10,000 letters on the subject. But Susan was the overwhelming choice."
As the party swindled away, a museum attendant came by bearing a dollar, the old-fashioned paper kind with George Washington, which also weighs less than a silver dollar but won't go into most vending machines.
"Somebody left this under one of the trees," he said, pointing at one of the trees that flourish inside the building. He shook his head at such unbankerlike behavior and glanced at one of the bars where the last bottle of sherry was being put away.
"Maybe they were giving out free samples," suggested a belated guest, hurrying over to look for more.