Cents And Sensibility

Why we hate the new money.

I was once in a grocery store in Italy, fumbling through a mound of pocket change to pay for my lunch. The old woman at the cash register reached across the counter and pointed helpfully at the elegant brass-inlaid 500-lire coin that I had been saving since early in my trip. No bigger than a quarter, it looked like a penny framed in a silver grommet.

 
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The Money Maker

The Secret Service considered Emanuel Ninger a common counterfeiter. He saw himself as an American master of the impressionist school.

THE MOST PRESUMPTUOUS counterfeiter in American history was a blue-eyed, sandy-bearded, German sign painter named Emanuel Ninger. As a sign painter he was adequate; as an impressionist, a historic master. And a soaring egotist. Not for him the ordinary counterfeiter’s conceit that his bills were as good as the government’s. Ninger insisted his were worth more.Read more »

American Gold

Solid-gold coins were legal tender for most of the nation's history. In their brilliant surfaces we can see our past fortunes.

NOWADAYS MONEY SEEMS to have become a pure idea, a universally agreed-upon fiction conveyed by pieces of paper, plastic cards, computers, and coins made of nearly worthless metal. But until just fifty-one years ago, money meant solid gold, that precious, rare, beautiful, glamorous, and nearly indestructible element which had stood throughout history as the invulnerable guarantee of financial security.Read more »

The Plot To Steal Lincoln’s Body

Jack Hughes was an outstanding passer of phony bills. A thoroughly honest-looking man, respectably bearded and always well dressed, he spent his working day going from store to store, making one small purchase at each, and paying for it with crisply persuasive counterfeit money.

If his currency ever was questioned and the police called, no case could be made; he never had more than one bad bill in his possession. Read more »