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Confederate Counterfeit Banknotes

The middle part of the 19th Century was to be known as the “Golden Age of Counterfeiting.” It was legal for anyone to print money, the only trick was in getting people to trust the issuer enough to accept the notes. For this reason, it was mostly banks, railroads and financial institutions that issued their own paper. During the Civil War, counterfeiting became even more prevalent, because the Confederacy issued seventy-two different types of notes between 1861 and 1864. Due to a lack of instant communications between the States and different banking institutions, it was hard for people to know what was real and what was fake. In Philadelphia, an enterprising merchant named Samuel Upham began printing Confederate notes with a first issue of 3,000 Five Dollar notes, with a small strip at the bottom of the note that read "Fac-simile Confederate Note - Sold wholesale and retail by S.C. Upham 403 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia." These were sold for a Cent each, and it wasn’t long before these notes were all sold, the bottom strip cut off, then smuggled to the South where they were hard to tell from the real Confederate notes. Upham continued to print bogus notes during the entirety of the Civil War and because the Union did not recognize the legitimacy of the Confederacy, he could not be prosecuted for counterfeiting. It has been estimated the Upham printed between one and three percent of the total Confederate circulating currency. Today, notes printed by Upham can command prices that are greater than the actual notes they copy.

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