In the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Stephen Mihm writes on counterfeiting currency which has parallels to the story of art forgery.
Mr. Mihm is an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia. He is the author of A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States (Harvard University Press, 2007). He is also the co-author (with Nouriel Roubini) of Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance (Penguin, 2010).
Few of us question the slips of green paper that come and go in our purses, pockets, and wallets. Yet confidence in the money supply is a recent phenomenon: prior to the Civil War, the United States did not have a single, national currency. Instead, countless banks issued paper money in a bewildering variety of denominations and designs – more than ten thousand different kinds by 1860. Counterfeiters flourished amid this anarchy, putting vast quantities of bogus bills into circulation. This article, adapted from the 2009 book A Nation of Counterfeiters (Harvard University Press), discusses the origins of American counterfeiting of currency, a story that runs parallel to the story of art forgery.