Why America’s next Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew had better get himself a better signature

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Loopy autograph will be carried across the world on the face of dollar

New York

America’s next Treasury Secretary faces a full in-tray. With only weeks to go before the US is expected to violently bang its head against the debt ceiling, Jacob ‘Jack’ Lew, who was named as President Obama’s nominee, will take charge at a critical juncture. Will he be aggressive or genial? Will he give in easy, or will he stand firm against spending cuts?

Ordinarily, Washington’s legion of political fortune tellers would turn to his record or his friends and colleagues for insights. But instead, they’ve begun focusing on series of loops. Depending on how you count them, there are seven or eight loops (the first is a bone of contention among Beltway experts: it could be a giant loop or a soft J).

Loosely strung together, they constitute Mr Lew’s signature which, in the words of one observer at New York Magazine, resembles a “slinky that’s lost its spring”.

According to handwriting experts, the scrawl speaks either of his softer, cuddly side, or his mysterious nature. Or both. Professional graphologist Kathi McKnight even likened Mr Lew’s script to that of Princess Diana. “Well, Princess Di had very loopy writing,” she told the Washington Post.

The real Mr Lew, some have claimed, could be crouched behind the impenetrable hedge of loops, keeping his cards close to his chest - something that could present a potential hurdle for Republican negotiators as they attempt get a handle on their new foe in the debt ceiling talks.

“People with illegible signatures... like to keep some things private,” says Ms McKnight.

The signature, or “doodle” as it is described by The Atlantic, might also raise eyebrows at the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the august body responsible for printing the nation’s currency notes, which, once he is confirmed by Congress, will carry Mr Lew’s scrawl around the world.

Mr Lew’s predecessor, Tim Geithner, famously revised his autograph before signing the notes. Asked last year why he had revisited his penmanship, Mr Geithner’s response might serve as a lesson for Mr Lew: “Well, I think on the dollar bill I had to write something where people could read my name. That’s the rationale… I didn’t try for elegance. I tried for clarity.”

The New York Times has suggested Mr Lew might like to “clean up his penmanship” in preparation for its appearance on dollar bills. But, for now, it is not clear whether Mr Lew, currently the President’s Chief of Staff, is practicing his penmanship between meetings. Asked at a briefing if he was, the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney simply said: “Not that I’m aware of.” Mr Lew might of course decide to follow the example set by the UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, who has kept his austere, smile-shaped sign-off of a curved line and dot.

Speculation, meanwhile, continues about what exactly Mr Lew’s loops, which were first noticed when one of his memos appeared on the internet a couple of years ago, might mean. One writer at AOL’s Daily Finance website suggested it might be a “surrealistic representation of the US economy, circa 2008,” while another at the Fox News website asked: “Is it modern art?”

He has his defenders, however. “[Lew’s signature] would turn American currency into the best money ever,” Ezra Klien at the Washington Post wrote this week, chiding the “fun destroyer” Tim Geithner for revising his own.

A spider wanders across the page...

Some people sign their names in a way that tells you who they are; others have signatures which make no attempt to communicate. It is an annoying habit because it puts the onus on the reader to work out who the signatory is.

If you went to sign on for benefits, you would have to write your name more clearly than the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, whose illegible scrawl is reproduced here.

It is said that people who sign their names illegibly do not want others to know who they really are. That might seem an odd thing to say about Winston Churchill, whose signature is barely decipherable, or Rajiv Gandhi, from India’s premier political family.

That fraud Bernard Madoff, on the other hand, had more to hide than just his name – though why should Henry Kissinger sign his name in a way that made sure no one could possibly read it?

Henry VIII was also reckoned to have illegible writing, by Tudor standards. He also loathed paperwork. He got round both problems by being one of the first public figures to have a stamp made of his signature to save himself the trouble of writing it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?