KAI RYSSDAL: Whether it's a bull or a bear, Wall Street's big on symbols and one of its most famous is looking for a new home. It's a statue of a bull and a bear by a Frenchman named Isadore BonHeur that stood at the Lunch Club at the New York Stock Exchange for 82 years. The Lunch Club folded this year. Traders don't have time to dilly dally anymore, you know, what with electronic trading and all. But commentator John Steele Gordon says they ought to find a place for the arts.
JOHN STEELE GORDON: In the Frenchman's great sculpture, the bull is goring the bear while the bear has its fangs sunk deep into the bull's neck. Who will be the winner of the contest is anyone's guess.
Indeed, with the bronze animals just as with the optimists and pessimists of the marketplace that they symbolize, the contest never ends. On Wall Street, there is always another day. Even if the day is when floor brokers can have a sit down lunch and maybe play a few hands of gin rummy before returning to the fray are long gone.
Just like the days when 3 million shares was big volume. The brokerage firm of LaBranche and Company wanted to be sure that the statue stayed in the Wall Street area. So to save it from public auction and purchase by Kuwait, perhaps, or ending up in Switzerland like the Americas Cup, they bought the statue.
Like all well-cared-for bronze statues a century old, the bull and bear has a rich patina. Except, that is, for one portion of the bull's anatomy. Which particular portion needn't be specified on a family show. This portion has been rubbed to a high polish by generations of superstitious brokers as they left the Lunch Club on their way back to the floor, hoping that what makes a bull a bull would give them luck.
Who knows? Maybe it did. When the statues arrived on Wall Street, the Dow Jones was under 200. Today, it is more than 50 times as high. Now the question for LaBranche and Company is where to put the statue on a long-term loan so that the public can, at long last, admire it. And while admiring it, perhaps, do what generations of brokers have been doing since 1924: rub it for luck. Any takers?
KAI RYSSDAL: Business historian John Steele Gordon's latest book is called "An Empire of Wealth."