Speaking of counterfeiting, in his June 7, 2011 column in Bank Note Reporter, Fred Reed outlines the history of a popularly-repeated 'fact" about the circulation of counterfeit currency in the U.S. and excoriates recent authors and exhibit curators for perpetuating what he called "the big lie" about the amount of counterfeiting prevalent in this country during the U.S. Civil War. Here are some excerpts, but be sure to read the complete article, which is available on NumisMaster.com.
Nearly two years ago in this column, we exposed the cycle of wild-eyed fibbery concerning the amount of counterfeiting prevalent in this country during the U.S. Civil War.(1)
In doing so, I hoped this column had exposed the “infinite echo chamber of error” surrounding unsubstantiated, grossly over stated, and frankly erroneous views misrepresenting the amount of counterfeiting in the United States in that era. These bogus claims take the form of alleging that one-third or (horrors) even more of the notes in circulation were fake at the time.
In these pages, I tracked these spurious claims back to the U.S. Secret Service published sources. The principle architect of this “big lie” was the self-serving mis-guesstimater-in-chief Col. William P. Wood, first chief of the federal detective bureau charged with eradicating the scourge of bogus bills. Wood attempted to mitigate his dismal failure to suppress rampant counterfeiting by outrageously claiming the problem he inherited was much, much worse than it in fact was.
As we have shown over many months, Wood is a spectacularly unreliable witness in this or any regard. This fake “colonel,” who had no discernible success in reducing the output of the midnight pressmen, was a self-serving liar on this as on many other things. However, Wood’s falsehood took on a life of its own, and has echoed down to the present day infecting the works of nearly all writers on this subject.
If you want a refresher, read this columnist’s August 2009 column, Part 50 in this series, titled “Who is responsible for the misinformation?” which appeared in Bank Note Reporter on pps. 42-47. If you don’t have the hard copy of the essay handy, it is archived on this publisher’s excellent numismaster.com website at www.numismaster.com/ta/numis/Article.jsp?ad=article&ArticleId=7023. It covers the source of this bad data and the resultant cascade of copycat “wolf criers” across the publishing industry, and more recently on the Internet. I followed this hogwash time after time in print and on the Internet, until I tired of the exercise tracking down all the permutations of these lies.
Many similar deceits cropped up in otherwise reputable official government or scholarly sources, and in the mass media like the Washington Post and New York Times. The erroneous one-third counterfeit claim virus even infected the Public Broadcasting Service’s “History Detectives” television series.
I hardly expected various government bureaucrats, nor the many data aggregators, bloggers, or other information lightweights to respond to my arguments, or change their erroneous claims. It was too much to hope that these misinformers would even acknowledge that their fraudulent claims had been called into question. Once a falsity becomes an idée fixe (a fixed notion, i.e., a delusional idea that dominates the mental frame over a prolonged period, such as a mental disorder) it is impossible (or at least very difficult) to disabuse the percipient of his/her error.
To read the complete article, see:
Tall Tales Die Hard, or the Big Lie
Wayne Homren, Editor
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