(click for bigger detail and sorry about the fatty watermark on it)
Behold the greatest piece of trading art ever created. The piece is untitled, undated (likely from early 1970s) and by an unknown artist (Alfred Marshall), yet like the Mona Lisa it can be admired for it's simplicity, intriguing facial expression and style which reflects upon it's subject. I hereby entitle it Smug Trader.
I can admit to being at a total loss when it comes to highbrow art conversations but this piece speaks to me like no other piece of art ever created, and I've been to most of the top art museums around the world. The artist's style and text is very crude like futures industry always has been so Smug Trader is a very appropriate mirror not just of the public perception but even of the industry upon itself. In 2014 it remains a bit of an eccentric occupation to be a commodities futures trader but it was significantly more unconventional when this piece was likely created around 1970.
The most fascinating aspect of the piece is his smirk combined with the beer chalice which has runneth over. I've traded millions of futures contracts in my career and never felt anywhere near that good at the end of a trading session so it's very intriguing as to why he feels so good about himself. My theories behind Smug Trader's emotion are widely divergent in that he's either a drunk in between trading blowups or is actually that good. His scruff is also a nice touch because I used to say that the easiest way to identify a trader in Chicago was simply to see a guy on Thursday who hasn't shaved in a few days.
Trading has a large culture based around alcohol and it was never a surprise to see various drunks trade the open and then head to the exchange club for drinks around 9 or 10am. When I look at this piece, I do observe some of that devil-may-care attitude which I'd see others celebrate a short term victory whilst succumbing to long term attrition. There were always traders who'd blow up and then find a backer to stake them for another chance and more than anything, this is the type of person who would exhibit such a (temporarily) smug look in a highly volatile industry like futures trading where the odds eventually even out. In the NHL playoffs, the boilerplate saying is "don't get too high, don't get too low" and amongst the great traders I've been around, that's how they carry themselves as the anthesis of Smug Trader. Coupled w/a gin blossom on his nose, what looks like an OTB ticket behind the newspaper quotation sheet also leads me to see him as a degenerate.
Before moving to the other extreme, it is noted "Commodity Brokers - Chicago Mercantile Exchange" at the top of the piece so perhaps this gentleman isn't a trader and is a broker. Because the sweat factor isn't anywhere near as high for a broker as it is a trader (unless IMHO they operate a clearing firm), this could be a pretty standard look for a broker. In terms of sloppy drunks my observation from worst to best were: pit brokers, desk/upstairs brokers, scalper style locals, position carrying locals and then prop firm locals....not hating on any group, just one man's observations largely based upon oversight and accountability.
So that brings me to the other extreme, perhaps he is as good to justify that look. Because this art is CME centric and from the early 1970's, it must've been some meat contract he was operating in (a zoom on the quote sheet shows Hogs and 'Bellies as the only CME products on it). Again, having never been around a legitimate trader w/that look on his face makes me recall stories from the '60s and '70s I read of large operators, such as REFCO, who'd move their livestock across the Rio Grande to Mexico so the USDA reports like cattle on feed would be manipulated in their favor. Smug Trader looks like just the type of guy who'd be raising a frothy glass after a report came in just as he helped to arrange.
Later in the '70's, the CME would use the Friedmanesque saying "Free Markets for Free Men" and in the meat pits, it would jokingly be changed to "Wide Markets for Wide Men" so it's not too far a stretch to imagine Smug Trader easily amongst those wide men quoting wide bid/ask spreads.
I purchased Smug Trader quite randomly many years ago and had it recently undergo scanning and light revitalization at Chicago's finest art restoration service. There are prints I made of it but I'm reserving them as a type of diplomatic gift to contributors of the historical project, like Cohibas once were.