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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 10, March 9, 2008, Article 25

AUTHOR MIHM LECTURES STUDENTS ON HISTORY OF COUNTERFEITING

[Students at Rider University were treated to a lecture
on the history of counterfeiting by author (and E-Sylum
subscriber) Stephen Mihm.  -Editor]

Counterfeiting was made easy and understandable for students
on Monday, when the History Department hosted the 16th
annual Emanuel Levine Lecture.  This year’s speaker, Dr.
Stephen Mihm of the University of Georgia, spoke on his
book A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and
the Making of the United States.

“We don’t think about what’s on our money, because we don’t
look at our money,” Mihm said. “But there was a time when
money was the subject of intense scrutiny.”

He added that if a person was caught counterfeiting money
today, he or she would face significant jail time. Back
then that same person wouldn’t be “punished with the same
ferocity.”

The problem with counterfeiting was that it didn’t usually
come from within the country. There was a famous spot just
above the Vermont border in Canada where the fake money
came into the country. The spot in question was popular
because it was the area that Canada and America argued over
where the border between the countries lay.

Since there were so many charter banks going bankrupt and
some that never intended to cash in the bank notes,
businessmen were suspicious of bank notes in general.
According to Mihm, some businessmen had admitted in court
that they would rather “receive a counterfeit bank note
from a good bank than a real bank note from a bad bank.”
They knew it would be easier for them to pass the
counterfeit to someone else.

The next step in the country’s effort to try and put a
stop to counterfeiting was a printed paper called the
Counterfeit Detector. When counterfeits were found,
descriptions of them were printed for people to be aware.

This did not stop the counterfeiters. For instance, once
they printed a dozen notes with a horse with three legs.
When the Counterfeit Detector published that, the
counterfeiters printed thousands with the fourth leg added.

Counterfeiters were so devious that they even printed
counterfeits of the Counterfeit Detector.

It wasn’t until the Civil War that counterfeiting came to
a “crashing, resounding halt” Mihm said. The government
printed money for the soldiers using a green back because
it was hard to counterfeit. Charter banks were given the
option of giving up their state charter for a federal charter
and issuing notes that looked the same across the country
with different bank names or losing their charter completely.

While the cover to Mihm’s book looks intriguing with its
copy of a bank note, the paperback will probably have a
different cover, he said.

A friend told Mihm that the bill on the front of his book
was too close to the actual size and “technically your book
is in violation of federal law.”

During all his research, he came across some unique designs
on bank notes, ranging from scantily clad women to one of
his favorites, a polar bear devouring a man on a raft.

With those designs, no wonder people looked at their
money more.

To read the complete article, see:
Full Story

[Of special interest to numismatic bibliophiles is the
discussion of Counterfeit Detectors.  So which Counterfeit
Detector was published by counterfeiters?  -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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