The “Happy Merchant” is an anti-Semitic meme depicting a drawing of a Jewish man with heavily stereotyped facial features who is greedily rubbing his hands together. The meme is by far the most popular anti-Semitic meme among white supremacists, who have created a nearly endless series of images and variants featuring the “Happy Merchant.”
The meme originated with pen-and-ink artwork by a racist cartoonist who used the pseudonym “A. Wyatt Mann,” exposed by Buzzfeed reporter Joseph Bernstein in 2015 as actually being artist Nick Bougas (allegations of Bougas’ authorship had long predated Bernstein’s article). Mann became known for his grotesquely racist and anti-Semitic cartoons in the 1980s and 1990s, many of which first appeared in newsletters published by longtime white supremacist Tom Metzger.
The original cartoon featured the Happy Merchant image and a similarly bigoted drawing of an African-American, as well as images of a rat and a cockroach. The cartoon contained a racist assertion that substituted the images for certain words to read: “A world without [Jews] and [blacks] would be like a world without [rats] and [cockroaches].” According to the Australian non-profit Online Hate Prevention Institute, this cartoon appeared on Metzger’s website at least as early as 2004 (its first appearance in print was likely earlier).
At some point—Bernstein suggests as early as 2001—someone cropped out all but the Jewish man from the cartoon and uploaded it to the Internet, where it became particularly popular on forums such as 4chan, whose users began modifying and spreading it. It eventually gained the name “Happy Merchant.” It has also been called “Le Happy Merchant,” “Merchant Face” and “Jew Face.”
The Happy Merchant has become nearly ubiquitous in modern online white supremacist and anti-Semitic iconography. A 2018 study by scholars examining memes displayed in various online communities determined that the Happy Merchant was among the most popular memes on both 4chan and Gab, two major online outlets for alt right expression.