Short Snorters

What is a short snorter? Do you want me to explain it or Nobel Prize Winner John Steinbeck?

What is a "short snorter"?

I'll let John Steinbeck (yes, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck) tell you all about it.

The growth of the Short Snorters is one of the greatest single menaces to come out of the war so far. The idea started as a kind of joke in a time when very few people flew over an ocean in an airplane. It became the custom then for the crew of the airplane to sign their names on a one-dollar bill which made the new ocean flyer a Short Snorter. He was supposed to keep this bill always with him. If at any time he were asked if he were a Short Snorter and he did not have his signed bill with him he was forced to pay a dollar to each member present at the time when the question was asked. It was good fun and a kind of general joke and also it was a means of getting someone to pay for the drinks.

But then came the war and the building of thousands of ships and the transporting of thousands of men overseas by airplane and every single one becomes a Short Snorter. There are hundreds of thousands of Short Snorters now who have actually flown over an ocean and there are further hundreds of thousands who carry signed bills. And the new Short Snorter goes much farther than having his bill signed by the crew which carried him on his initial crossing.  At a bar you ask your drinking companion to sign your bill. You ask generals and actors and senators to sign your bill.

With the growing autographing one bill soon was not enough. You procured another bill and stuck it with Scotch tape to your first bill. Then the thing went farther. You began to collect bills from other countries. To your American dollar bill you stuck a one-pound English note, and to it a fifty-franc Algerian note, and to it a hundred-lira bill. Every place you went you stuck the money to your growing Short Snorter until now there are people who have streamers eight and ten feet long, which, folded and rolled, make a great bundle in the pocket, and these streamers are covered with thousands of names and represent besides considerable money. Even the one-dollar original is disappearing. Many new Short Snorters use $20 bills and some even $100 bills.”

These are the new autograph books. The original half of the joke has been lost. In bars, in airports, in clubs, the first thing that must be done is a kind of general exchange of signatures. Serious and intelligent gentlemen sign one another’s bills with an absolute lack of humor. If the party is fairly large it might take an hour before everyone has signed the bill of everyone else. Meanwhile the soup gets cold.

There are favorite places on the bill for honored and desirable autographs. The little space under Morgenthau’s name is one such. The wide space beside the portrait on the bill is another. If you get an autograph you want to show, you have it written on a clear space, but if it is just one of the run-of-the-mill signatures it is put any place in the green part, where it hardly shows up at all. It is a frantic, serious-minded, insane thing. Men of dignity scramble for autographs on their Short Snorters. A special case, usually made of cellophane, is sometimes carried to house the bill, or the long streamers of bills, “because these treasures are handled so much that they would fall to pieces if they were not protected.

The effort and time involved in this curious thing is immense. Entertainers who travel about to our troops sign literally thousands of Short Snorter bills. For no longer do people have to fly an ocean to be members. The new method is that any Short Snorter can create a new Short Snorter. The club is pyramiding. Probably there are ten million Short Snorters now and every day new thousands begin to scribble on their bills. It would be interesting to know how many bills are withdrawn from circulation to be used as autograph books. They must run into the millions.

The use of large bills as Short Snorter bills has a curious logic behind it. The man or woman who used a $20 or $100 bill feels that he or she will not spend this money because of the signatures on it, but he also feels that if he needs to he can spend it. Thus he has a nest egg or mad money and a treasure, too. He will not toss it over a bar nor put it in a crap game, but if he really should get into a hole he has this money with him.
Very curious practices grow out of a war and surely none more strange than this one has taken over the public recently.