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V14 2011 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 5, January 30, 2011, Article 6

NEW BOOK: MONEYMAKERS: ADVENTURES OF THREE NOTORIOUS COUNTERFEITERS

Tom Fort forwarded this review of a new book on U.S. counterfeiters from the New York Times. Thanks! Here are a few excerpts. -Editor

Tarnoff Moneymakers In the midst of the current economic chaos, our faith in that most modest of financial instruments the dollar bill has remained unchanged. Not the mass dollar, that abstract plurality, ebbing and ebbing again, but the Federal Reserve notes in your pocket. Your dollars may lose value, but at least they are real.

Such confidence is a recent luxury, Ben Tarnoff observes in "Moneymakers: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious Counterfeiters." "By the time the federal government began regulating the money supply," Tarnoff writes, "there were more than 10,000 different kinds of notes circulating in the United States." With so much paper being issued from state-chartered institutions like banks, railroads and insurance companies even the savviest merchants could not keep up with the proliferation of legal currencies, let alone identify counterfeits. In this wealth of confusion, lasting from the colonial period until after the Civil War, counterfeiters thrived.

In a country where the prevailing national fantasy was and remains that you make your own luck, the counterfeiter exerted powerful charm. Self-made men in a class-bound nation, counterfeiters were a roguish personification of the American dream. Tarnoff, a first-time author, expertly sketches biographical vignettes; beguiling and clever, counterfeiters not only mastered the art of forgery and the con, but often ingratiated themselves with their marks.

Tarnoff doesn't linger over the mechanics of counterfeiting. The process lacks sex appeal. Unlike, say, art forgers, counterfeiters were usually disgruntled printers or metalworkers. Rather, he concentrates on career trajectories. Counterfeiters typically passed bills for several years before being caught, were sometimes celebrated, and then hanged or mutilated with branding irons.

MONEYMAKERS
The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious
Counterfeiters
By Ben Tarnoff
Illustrated. 369 pp.
The Penguin Press.
$27.95.

The book covers some familiar territory for those of us interested in the tales of counterfeiters (such as Samuel Upham), but any new book is welcome. Anyone care to write a review in a future E-Sylum? -Editor

To read the complete article, see: Hot Off the Presses (www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/books/review/Washburn-t.html)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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