The E-Sylum:  Volume 6, Number 3, January 19, 2003, Article 6


  The January 9, 2003 issue of the Christian Science Monitor
  published a review of a new book, "Greenback: The Almighty
  Dollar and the Invention of America" by Jason Goodwin,
  published Henry Holt, 321 pp., $26.

  "The billions of electronic dollars zipping from computer to
  computer each day provoke an interesting question: What
  really is an American dollar? British author and journalist
  Jason Goodwin takes a crack at the answer with "Greenback,"
  a biography of the buck that traces it from native American
  wampum to today's almighty bill.

  It is a riveting story with a quirky cast of early American
  characters that includes a few of the Founding Fathers,
  inventors, counterfeiters, secret agents, bankers, and
  swindlers, each placing their thumbprint on the young
  country's currency and monetary system, whether they
  knew it or not."

  For the full review, see:

  From Publishers Weekly (published on, where
  the book is offered for $18.20):

  "After a strong start, this history of American money loses
  its thread and ends up as an entertaining collection of trivia,
  personality profiles and vignettes rather than the compelling
  narrative promised in its opening. Still, Goodwin's flair for a
  colorful tale makes for rich reading,  covering such odds and
  ends as a brothel in the Treasury Department, a prayer vigil
  over banking deposits, exploding printing presses and even
  a counterfeit scheme run from behind prison bars. Goodwin
  (Lords of the Horizons) makes some excellent points about
  the role of paper money in early U.S. history-it was the
  earliest symbol of the new country; it helped push colonists
  West; it even helped familiarize Americans with their native
  artists-but the significance of the stories he's chosen to include
  isn't always clear. After presenting a single national currency
  as one of the holy grails of early American banking, for
  instance, he glosses over the moment it finally arrives, a true
  turning point in American financial history. Goodwin's position
  as a foreign observer (he is an English journalist) occasionally
  trips him up: no one in America, for example, says "that will
  be four dollars thirty six."

  The more I learn about numismatic history, the less surprised
  I am to read about various scandals.  Somehow, I think I
  would have remembered reading about a brothel in the
  Treasury Department.  Unless it's something new, perhaps
  staffed by holdover interns from the Clinton Administration...
  Alas, according to another Amazon reviewer, the book has
  no footnotes or endnotes.  Does anyone know of a source
  for the Treasury brothel story?  Perhaps he's referring to the
  Spencer Clark scandals.   From an earlier review of
  the book in The New York Times, December 29, 2002:

  "But once in motion, the dollar rewarded fellow raconteurs
  like Spencer Morton Clark, who ran the currency bureau
  during the Civil War era like a personal harem, and tried to
  slip his own face onto a five-cent bill.  Goodwin observes,
  with typical wry amusement, ''Queer things had turned up
  on dollar bills in the past, from Santa Claus to the Delaware
  rat, but nothing to match the appearance, on a U.S. note, of
  a bankrupt sex pest under investigation for embezzlement
  and fraud.''

  Benny Bolin wrote a good article on Clark, originally
  published in Paper Money, the journal of the Society of
  Paper Money Collectors.  It has since been posted to the

  "Due to the war and the subsequent shortage of available male
  workers, it became a necessity for a large number of women
  to be hired to work in the printing department. This was a new
  and radical idea in the workplace. The private bank note
  companies used this new idea, especially the fact that a large
  number of women were employed at night, to raise charges
  against the bureau.  Charges of fraud and promiscuity rocked
  the Treasury Department. Reports of drinking, orgies and
  required sexual favors to keep jobs were numerous. It was
  widely reported that the printing bureau had been converted
  into a place for debauchery and drinking, the very recital
  of which is impossible without violating decency."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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