Abstract Recounts how three of America's most successful counterfeiters, Owen Sullivan worked 1720-1756 , David Lewis worked 1788-1820 , and Samuel Upham worked 1819-1885 , each cunningly manipulated the political and economic realities of his day. The resistance to federal power was rooted in a particular interpretation of the Constitution and a long legacy of limited government. Related Explore multimedia from the series and navigate through past posts, as well as photos and articles from the Times archive. Creating a plate for printing counterfeit bills required tremendous dexterity. Upham first got the idea the month before, on Feb. Sullivan capitalized on a number of prevailing conditions in the colonies: the collective thirst for liquidity to fuel a growing economy, the often unruly nature of the financial system, and scanty law enforcement. What did you learn about Americans? He forged Confederate money with impunity from the safety of Philadelphia, peddling his fakes openly to soldiers and smugglers headed South.
Through the tales of these three memorable counterfeiters, Moneymakers spins the larger story of America's financial ups and downs during its infancy and adolescence, tracing its evolution from a patchwork of colonies to a powerful nation with a single currency. I had no idea currency was such a fundamentally chaotic issue in our nation's foundational period. They felt pain when they lost their life savings in financial panics. It provided a country with few natural resources and little political or economic leverage the fuel to colonize an entire continent. For more about the book, visit. For these reasons they came to understand the political and economic landscape of early America far better than most criminals of the era. Sullivan, Lewis, and Upham gave me a way to connect the story of American counterfeiting with the story of America as a whole.
They were each active at moments of major change in the American monetary landscape. Few nations have as rich a counterfeiting history as the United States. Samuel Upham took advantage of the unique circumstances brought about by the Civil War. Paper currency met that need. Outdated notions of proper governance proved remarkably persistent, even when modern circumstances demanded something very different. Decades later, David Lewis picked a similarly momentous time: just as the rapid proliferation of note-issuing banks flooded the early United States with new bills, with obvious benefits for counterfeiters.
As Lincoln and his Treasury head, Salmon Chase, understood all too well, the military prospects of either side owed much to the reliability of their respective money supplies. Fake cash plagued the Confederacy from the beginning, supplied by Northern and Southern counterfeiting gangs. A: When I started reading about the subject, I became fascinated with the stories of the individual counterfeiters. Lewis became something of a popular hero, known for audacious jailbreaks and sporadic generosity toward strangers. But the American people generally resisted the idea of a federal government powerful enough to make meaningful interventions in the economy and the currency, even if it would be to their benefit.
As long as everyone believed something had value—whether a piece of colonial money or a stock certificate—it did. Almost every day, I would encounter a fact or a story that called to mind current events. For these reasons they came to understand the political and economic landscape of early America far better than most criminals of the era. Their fortunes were, in every sense, self-made. In March 1862, his business had only just begun. Since the colonies suffered from a chronic shortage of precious metals, they were the first place in the Western world to use easily forged paper bills.
The spine may show signs of wear. At first, it seemed possible that he sincerely thought of his reproductions as souvenirs. America may look a lot different in 2010 than it did in 1690-1865, which is roughly the period covered by my book. He has also written for The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Lapham's Quarterly, and is the author of A Counterfeiter's Paradise: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Early American Moneymakers. Over the next year and a half, he would become one of the strangest success stories of the Civil War: a legal counterfeiter, driven by patriotism and personal gain, who struck at the financial heart of the Confederacy from the safety of downtown Philadelphia. The success of an entire operation essentially rested on one pair of hands. The first was designed by Tony Roberts for the Panther Books paperback in 1975.
Q: What initially drew you to the topic of counterfeiting? What initially drew you to the topic of counterfeiting? In fact, the American colonies were the first governments in the Western world to print paper currency. What made you decide on these people in particular? Advertisement As the war progressed, Confederate authorities became convinced that Upham and others were part of a Union campaign to wage economic war on the South. The speculative ethos that pervades Wall Street today, Tarnoff suggests, has its origins in the craft of counterfeiters who first took advantage of a turbulent American economy. Faced with a scarcity of coin, colonial America needed a way to fund wars and collect taxes and conduct trade: more broadly, it needed a way to convert the ambitions of its inhabitants into real economic growth. He forged Confederate money with impunity from the safety of Philadelphia, peddling his fakes openly to soldiers and smugglers headed South. As long as everyone believed something had value—whether a piece of colonial money or a stock certificate—it did. They felt pain when they lost their life savings in financial panics.
Flag Abuse Flagging a post will send it to the Goodreads Customer Care team for review. It makes something out of nothing by investing an otherwise worthless material with monetary value typically reserved for gold or silver. For the Philadelphia shopkeeper to be able to advertise his counterfeits openly and send them through the mail meant the authorities must have given him permission or, possibly, material support. America may look a lot different in 2010 than it did in 1690-1865, which is roughly the period covered by my book. What did you learn about America through writing this book? Few nations have as rich a counterfeiting history as the United States. The speculative ethos that pervades Wall Street today, Tarnoff suggests, has its origins in the craft of counterfeiters who first took advantage of a turbulent American economy.
In the period covered by the book, Americans tended to have a confidence problem: they either had too much of it, taking risks as everything surged, or too little, fleeing the market as everything crumbled. By the time Upham launched his publicity campaign in March, however, his business had clearly evolved from a modest retail operation into a high-volume wholesaling enterprise. Since the colonies suffered from a chronic shortage of precious metals, they were the first place in the Western world to use easily forged paper bills. This book explains what a huge issue paper currency was in these early days of the republic and the rogues and vagabonds whose exploits gained them Robin Hood status as eye gougers to the 'legal' financiers who were oft times politically connected scam artists themselves. Banks - not a national mint - were responsible for producing the legal tender notes. Upham saw a chance to cash in. Did you develop a new appreciation or understanding of the American economy through writing this book? The essential features of our most recent crisis would be familiar to people living through the Panics of 1819 or 1837 or any of the several subsequent disruptions in the following decades.
By the summer of 1862, as fake cash flowed across the border in ever greater quantities, the Confederate leadership took notice. After his first print run, Upham rapidly expanded his inventory. But he was also an entrepreneur with an eye for easy profit, and the Civil War offered the business opportunity of a lifetime: the ability to forge money without breaking the law. But though physical counterfeiting has declined, the spirit of counterfeiting endures. What surprised you most while researching and writing? So counterfeiters tended to be talented artists—but they were also aggressively entrepreneurial. The notes first appeared in 1690 in response to the severe shortage of precious metals that plagued colonial life.