Favorite covers from 500 issues of Futures

September 2, 2014 05:00 AM
500th issue

The 500th issue of Commodities/Futures magazine is out. It took a little work to go over 500 issues, but it was also a lot of fun looking at past stories and covers.

Magazine covers are an interesting thing; they're a glimpse into a different period of time and an idea of what a group of people thought was important to highlight.

As part of our 500th issue celebration we decided to select the 10 best or most significant covers of the 500. Because we are a news magazine the criteria included, in addition to aesthetics, the significance of what was being highlighted.

Here are the top 10 covers (and one of the worst) of Commodities/Futures magazine.


Honorable mentions  

April 1984:  

John Houseman, a well known English born actor, actually was a trader at the Chicago Board of Trade (pre-1929 crash) before finding his calling. He became famous through the movie and television show  “The Paper Chase,” but his greatest fame came from a series of eclectic ads for Smith Barney that would be lampooned and become part of pop culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. He recounted his early days as a grain merchant and wheat trader in an interview with Futures.  

March 1995:

In our March 1995 issue we borrowed from the famous Saul Steinberg illustration, “A New Yorker's View of the World” from the New Yorker magazine for our Traders View of the world feature. Of course in our view, Chicago was the center of the universe, which was certainly true from a futures perspective. 

10. February 2014:  

It has been a tough few years for the futures industry what with the MF Global and PFG debacles hitting end users in a short period of time. It had been a time when the economics of the industry had already become difficult for traders and now end users would be faced with added compliance costs.  We wanted to communicate the seriousness of the challenges along with the history of how the industry had fought through tough times before. The cover correctly illustrated how the fighting spirit emanating out of the birthplace of the modern futures industry could lead to a new age of innovation.  

9. February 1977 (Commodities):  

When you think of trading and traders, high art does not usually come to mind, but Leroy Neiman, who had become one of the most popular artists of the day, was not your typical artist. He had a penchant for painting sporting events and must have felt right at home painting the action on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.  

8. February 1998:  

This is not the only time Saddam Hussein was featured but was, perhaps, the most interesting. The cover and corresponding story illustrated how Hussein could alter the course of the crude oil market that helped fuel the growth of the 1990s. Low crude oil prices were supporting a strong U.S. economy, but Hussein’s on-again-off-again compliance with weapons inspectors challenged this and threatened the prospect of a second Gulf War. That would come five years later.  

7. December 1987:

The first issue of Futures following the Oct. 19, 1987 crash was a critical one. Equity index futures were queued up as a scapegoat by many folks looking to place blame for the historic market crash. If they would be successful, the growth of financial futures, still in its infancy, could have been muted. Futures played an important role in debunking the idea that index futures were the cause.  

6. November 1973 (Commodities):  

This cover features a picture of an old western mining community, which was appropriate because Congress had just passed legislation that would take off restrictions on owning—and eventually trading—gold. A new gold rush would soon ensue just in time for investors to hedge the oncoming period of high inflation.  

5. September 1983 (Futures #1):  

There was nothing particularly remarkable with the cover, which focused on the growing use of professional money managers for fututres trading. What was significant, however, was that it was the first issue of Futures as publisher Merrill Oster recognized that with the advent of financial futures, the name Commodities no longer accurately communicated what the magazine was about.

Ironically, former CFTC Chairman Philip McBride Johnson wrote an opinion piece in this issue stating that "Commodity was a word the industry could no longer afford to use," and should be given "a quiet and respectful burial." Oster claims Johnson didn't know of the change when he submitted the piece. Perhaps it made the difference.   

4. April 2005:

A personal favorite and happy accident. A couple of months earlier I interviewed longtime grain trader William (Bill) Plummer for our back page. Plummer is an art enthusiast who had a wide and eclectic collection of artwork in his office. This statue depicting George Washington’s likeness on the dollar bill laughing titled, “It isn’t funny George,” caught my eye. A few weeks later when we were planning our April currency issue I knew what the cover should be. Plummer kindly allowed us to photograph the statue as the dollar had been in the midst of a severe multi-year bear market, and the title was a natural.

Ironically, the dollar embarked on a yearlong upward correction starting that spring.


3. January 2000:  

An unscientific audit of past issues indicates that no national figure was featured in Futures more often than former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. Perhaps this is what caused Futures to try and do something other than a boring headshot of the man who became known as the maestro. Here Futures commissioned a graphic artist to depict the maestro riding the interest rate bull, whip (or is that a lariet?) in hand and under the title: "CAN GREENSPAN TAME RISING INTEREST RATES."


2. November 2001:  

9/11 was a world changing event that had particular relevance to the futures community. We were scheduled to close the previous issue on Sept. 11, 2001, but were evacuated from our building across the street from the Sears Towers (reportedly one of the potential targets that day). We spoke often to trading desks in the Twin Towers.  Our back page profile for November recounted an eerie message he listened to after that morning's events from his execution desk at Carr Futures, which was located on one of the top floors and was virtually wiped out in the attack.

The issue included many personal stories from people at or around Ground Zero that day. It is difficult to address a tragedy so vast and so recent. The cover depicted the towers leading to an actual equity index price chart on a black background.   

First issue of Commodities  

1. February/March 1972:  

In deference to our 500th anniversary and our founders, we selected the inaugural issue of Commodities. An odd story that illustrates the truly small world of this industry is that in my first job in the industry I worked with the sons of George C. Lang, the trader depicted on the first cover.   

Only one more to go!


April 1972:  

Some of the covers in the first few years were pretty simple; a picture of a cocoa bean, corn plant or cow were not very imaginative. We selected the April 1972 cover titled, “An inside look at the International Sugar Organization” as our worst. For the cost-conscious publisher, it certainly didn’t require a lot of production cost.   

About the Author

Editor-in-Chief of Modern Trader, Daniel Collins is a 25-year veteran of the futures industry having worked on the trading floors of both the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange.