With Mervyn King stepping down as head of the Bank of England this weekend there are many good things that can be said and have been said about his public service. (Here is what I said at the conference in his honor.)
But we economists should be very grateful to him for his decision to put Adam Smith on the £20 note along with an illustration of the pin factory in Smith’s famous story from the Wealth of Nations. Here is what the £20 note looks like
and here is a close up of the pin factory.
For many years Adam Smith has visited my Economics 1 class to talk about the pin factory. Here is an excerpt from a recording Smith2 where he tells the students how: one man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper. It is actually hard to see all these activities in the drawing on the note. Perhaps this is because it is not the same pin factory but rather this drawing from a French reference book
Épinglier (Pin-Maker) III, L’Encyclopédie (1760s)