Peter Gaspar submitted this review of The Art of Making Money – The Story of a Master Counterfeiter by Jason Kersten. Thanks!
This is the story of a master counterfeiter, Art Williams. But the book is largely about the psychological wounds inflicted by an irresponsible father who abandoned his young children and the elder son's escape from a Chicago public housing project. An admirer of his mother saved Art from life as a gang member by teaching him how to counterfeit paper money and how to distribute it with minimum risk. Had Art followed his mentor's rules, all might have been well, but he didn't, and suffered the inevitable consequences.
After his release in 1999 from a three-year prison term in Texas for burglary, Art was encouraged by a girlfriend to go straight. But he was depressed by the low wages he earned as a construction worker and by the strain of contributing to the support of a son from a previous relationship. When he saw a "New Note" hundred dollar bill of the series of 1996, he succumbed to the challenge of successfully counterfeiting it and of defeating the pens used to detect counterfeits by producing marks on the notes that change color.
The numismatic content of the book consists of the means used by Art Williams to circumvent safety features of the "New Note": the watermark, the security strip, and the color-shifting ink of the denomination mark on the lower right side of the obverse. The security strip and the watermark were handled cleverly by producing sandwiches in which fake security strips and simulated watermarks were inserted between two layers of paper that were then glued together.
Microprinting and colored fibers in the paper were reproduced by the ink-jet printers Williams used to print the portions of the design that are intaglio printed on real notes. Williams never used intaglio, and indeed used conventional printing only for the treasury seals and serial numbers that he applied with an offset press. When author Jason Kersten was interviewed in June on NPR about the man he called "the world's greatest counterfeiter", a BEP engraver phoned in to ask whether Art Williams did intaglio work. Kersten's assurance that Williams did no engraving, undermined the forger's reputation.
Williams has been busted three times in the past decade because he was careless in allowing family members to pass his fakes and passed them himself. The heavy dose of popular psychology, blaming most of Art's flaws on his father's desertion, overshadows this book's meager numismatic interest.
The Art of Making Money – The Story of a Master Counterfeiter
Jason Kersten, Gotham Books, New York, 2009, 292 pp hardbound, no illustrations.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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