By Stephen Mihm
Hearken to a quick interview with Stephen Mihm Host: Chris Gondek | manufacturer: Heron & Crane Few folks query the slips of eco-friendly paper that come and pass in our handbags, wallet, and wallets. but self assurance within the funds provide is a contemporary phenomenon: ahead of the Civil conflict, the us didn't have a unmarried, nationwide forex. as an alternative, numerous banks issued paper cash in a bewildering number of denominations and designs--more than 10000 other kinds through 1860. Counterfeiters flourished amid this anarchy, placing huge amounts of bogus accounts into circulate. Their good fortune, Stephen Mihm finds, is greater than an pleasing story of felony company: it's the tale of the increase of a rustic outlined by means of a freewheeling model of capitalism over which the government exercised little keep an eye on. It used to be an period while accountability for the country's forex remained within the fingers of capitalists for whom "making funds" was once as a lot a literal as a figurative project. Mihm's witty story brims with colourful characters: shady bankers, corrupt police officers, charismatic criminals, and magnificent engravers. in keeping with prodigious examine, it levels in all places, from long island City's felony underworld to the gold fields of California and the battlefields of the Civil battle. We find out how the government issued dollars for the 1st time and started dismantling the older financial approach and the counterfeit economic climate it sustained. A kingdom of Counterfeiters is a trailblazing paintings of historical past, person who casts the country's capitalist roots in a startling new gentle. Readers will realize a similar get-rich-quick spirit that lives on within the speculative bubbles and self assurance video games of the twenty-first century. (20070921)
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Extra resources for A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States
Counterfeiting was an extension of this logic: it likewise required others to deem something valuable that had no intrinsic, objective value. That Lysander and Burroughs came to this conclusion after their failed investment in alchemy was appropriate. The alchemical quest for riches was disappearing at this very time, replaced by other means of creating value out of thin air. Paper money was one such surrogate for alchemy. Counterfeiting was another, and Glazier Wheeler embodied the common spirit animating both pursuits.
But the ease with which counterfeiters plied their trade stemmed from ambivalence on the part of the colonists: most did not view counterfeiting as a threat so much as a harmless activity, if not a beneﬁcial one. Counterfeiters, after all, did a public service by increasing the amount of money in circulation in a part of the world where the demand for money invariably outstripped the supply. 19 A host of other factors contributed to the impunity with which counterfeiters operated, and foreshadowed many of the same problems that would plague law enforcement ofﬁcials by the time Burroughs and his ilk commenced operations.
Though successful, the signal achievement of this ﬁrst generation of homegrown criminals was not the manufacture of false coin, but the printing of fraudulent paper 26 b o r d e r i n g o n a l c h e m y money. Counterfeiters had plenty of opportunities to hone this particular branch of their craft during the eighteenth century, for the colonists led not only the mother country but also the rest of Europe in discovering the virtues and vices of paper currency. Indeed, by the time Burroughs was born, the impulse to substitute extrinsic conﬁdence in paper currency for the intrinsic virtues of gold and silver was already well established in the colonies, arguably more so than any other place in the world.