Origin of Counterfeit Money
Origin of Counterfeit Money bills were used as form of money, counterfeiters would alter others forms of currency to gain more value than the traded item was worth. One of the first instances of this was during the foundation of the American colonies, when Native Americans would trade shells known as wampum as a form of currency. Blue-black shells, which were more rare, had more value than their white counterparts. As a result, some traders would die the white shells a blue-black color and pass them off at higher value.
Shells were eventually replaced with coins made out of gold and silver. Each coin was weighted to be precisely the same, the value of the coin based on the weight. However, counterfeiters began to shave the sides of coins to collect the valuable metal. Before the coins were removed from circulation, sometime during the early 1700’s, counterfeiters had managed to reduce the weight and value of the original coin by at least half. Have you ever wondered why quarters and dimes have ridged sides? It was during this time that practice was developed, to make it more noticeable when a coin had been clipped.
A number of individuals in history have become famous as counterfeit money producers, although some have paid the price for their crime. Going as far back as the 5th century, Alexander the Barber was one of the first, famed counterfeiters. He became so well known in fact that instead of being punished by the ruler of that time, Emperor Justinian, he was instead employed by the state finance department. Other famed counterfeiters were less fortunate. The Bonny and Clyde of counterfeit money, Thomas and Ann Rogers, were hanged, drawn, quartered, and burned alive after their coin clipping activity was discovered.
Samuel Upham may be one of the most successful counterfeiters in history. A one time journalist that began producing counterfeit money in an attempt to make a political statement, he eventually found more value in the lack of values, and began printing fake money for profit. At the end of his operation he claimed to have printed more than $15,000,000 worth of counterfeit currency.
One of the unique stories out of Samuel Upham’s history of producing fake currency is that he sold tons of fake money from his shop as a recreational item. He claimed that at the end of his career he sold more than $50,000 of the fake money he produced. His production became so well known that Congress made a ruling that counterfeiting had become a crime and someone caught guilty of counterfeiting could be given the death penalty!
The Secret Service and Counterfeit Money
On April 14, 1865, one of President Abraham Lincoln’s last acts was signing a bill authorizing the Secret Service. Ironically President Lincoln signed the legislation on the same day which he would later be assassinated on, by John Wilkes Booth and the Secret Service would not be being assigned to help protect the United States President until 36 years after.
When the Secret Service was signed into law, its mission was to suppress currency counterfeiting. This was in part a response of the rampant money counterfeiting that was happening after the Civil War. It was estimated that at the time around one third to half of the money in the United States was counterfeit which overtime led to money having more security features to analyze bills like they do today.