Almost a year ago fellow blogger Yvonne Dooley did a post about the Grand Watermelon whose design was intended to thwart counterfeiting – and when it comes to money, counterfeiting is the persistent problem. One early publication that bankers used in the fight against this scourge was Thompson’s Bank Note and Commercial Reporter, which was first published in 1836 by John Thompson, who later founded the First National Bank of the City of New York and Chase National Bank.
While this publication included all sorts of news tidbits on banks and the economic situation of the country of interest to bankers (including a Wholesale Prices Current chart similar to what was published in the Gazette of the United States), its main focus was keeping bankers apprised of counterfeit bills. It was in the form of a state by state list by bank of information including details of the counterfeits. You can see how to read and understand the entries in the explanation of the “Marks, &c., used.”
The real fun comes in the descriptions of the counterfeits, which are actually a bit confusing to my modern eyes. The descriptions vary–some were simple and brief, while others were rather detailed. One note from the Bank of Charleston (South Carolina) was described as railroad and a mountain scene, while a note from Lancaster Bank (Pennsylvania) says a first rate imitation of genuine, but coarse – vig. A female leaning on a shield – steamship and sail vessel in distance – three females, anchor, &c., on left – four Cupids with figure 1 on right. Sometimes spelling was the downfall, as I saw in one entry on the Chesapeake Bank (Maryland) which says that a note had Chesapeake spelled without the final “e.” Another tactic used by counterfeiters was to take a note issued from one bank and alter it to make it look like it came from another bank with a similar name, as on one found by the Farmers Bank in Troy, NY that was really a note from the Farmers Bank in Texas. Occasionally Thompson would also publish the Coin Chart Manual as a supplement to the main publication and the Autographical Counterfeit Detector. Keeping up with the counterfeits was a complicated and never-ending process. Whole books were and still are, written on teaching people how to detect them.
In 1866 Thompson’s publication grew beyond reporting on counterfeits and became known as American Banker, which is still published today. If you are interested in banking literature, Business has compiled a list of the national and regional banking periodicals. To read more on counterfeiting history and what efforts have been undertaken to counteract and monitor it over time, the Library’s collection contains much more of interest.