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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 36, September 6, 2009, Article 18

HOW PEOPLE IN 1842 USED COUNTERFEIT DETECTORS

Chris Faulkner submitted this contemporary account of the use of a counterfeit detector book circa 1842. Thanks! Like the newspaper articles of Tom Kays' mysterious ledger six nine four, these first-hand accounts are invaluable for numismatic researchers. Thanks! -Editor

Travelers'' accounts often reveal their encounters and problems with the monies in circulation wherever they happen to set foot. This extract is from Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875), Travels in North America, Canada, and Nova Scotia with Geological Observations (London: J. Murray, 1855), pp. 215-216.

His remarks document his first-hand experience of an earlier perilous moment in U.S. banking history. Alas, the Counterfeit Detector in question is not further identified, nor are the notes in question or the names of the four failed banks. I have transcribed the pages verbatim

Philadelphia, January to March, 1842

Wishing to borrow some books at a circulating library, I presented several dollar notes as a deposit. At home there might have been a ringing of coin upon the counter, to ascertain whether it was true or counterfeit; here the shopwoman referred to a small pamphlet, re-edited "semi-monthly," called a "Detector," and containing an interminable list of banks in all parts of the Union, with information as to their present condition, whether solvent or not, and whether paying in specie, and adding a description of "spurious notes."

After a slight hesitation, the perplexed librarian shook her head, and declaring her belief that my notes were as good as any others, said, if I would promise to take them back again on my return, and pay her in cash, I might have the volumes.

It often happened that when we offered to buy articles of small value in shops, or fruit in the market, the venders [sic] declined to have any dealings with us, unless we paid in specie. They remarked that their change might in a few days be worth more than our paper. Many farmers and gardeners are ceasing to bring their produce to market, although the crops are very abundant, and prices are rising higher and higher, as if the city was besieged.

My American friends, anxious that I should not be a loser, examined all my dollar notes, and persuaded me, before I set out on my travels, to convert them into gold, at a discount of eight per cent. In less than four weeks after this transaction, there was a general return to cash payments, and the four banks by which the greater part of my paper had been issued, all failed.



Wayne Homren, Editor

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