Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States


Product Details

Harvard University Press
Publish Date
6.0 X 9.0 X 1.3 inches | 1.45 pounds

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About the Author

Stephen Mihm is Associate Professor of History at the University of Georgia.


Stephen Mihm's elegant study demonstrates that 'making money' once had a more literal meaning, when thousands of banks printed their own currency notes and numerous counterfeiters profitably imitated them. Mihm offers an absorbing and enlightening history of the complex relations between money, national stability, and the forging of American character.--Richard Sylla, New York University
Mihm brings to teeming life a world most Americans never knew existed, a world in which every single purchase was inflected with an additional layer of anxiety about the very currency in which the purchase was to be transacted. Written with exceptional intelligence and bracing wit, A Nation of Counterfeiters is fresh, fascinating and altogether original.--Michael Zuckerman, University of Pennsylvania
A meticulous and imaginative reconstruction of an entire counterfeit economy that intersected and overlapped with the 'legitimate' economy. A Nation of Counterfeiters is marvelous and unusual history. There really is nothing like it in the literature.--Bruce H. Mann, Harvard Law School
With imaginative research and crystalline prose, Stephen Mihm casts unprecedented light on the confidence games at the heart of early American capitalism. He also introduces us to an irresistible cast of characters, whose brazen exploits provide a new frame for understanding nineteenth century economic debate. A Nation of Counterfeiters is a brilliant synthesis of business and cultural history. This is a book to take seriously.--Jackson Lears, author of Something for Nothing: Luck in America
Mihm vividly and entertainingly describes the muddled and often fraudulent economy of pre-greenback America: those freewheeling, pre-Civil War days when the federal government not only did not print paper money but likewise did not bother to regulate those regional banks that did.-- "Publishers Weekly" (6/11/2007 12:00:00 AM)
Marvelously entertaining...There are enough shifty characters and bizarre incidents in here to outfit a hundred novels.--Roger K. Miller "Denver Post" (9/21/2007 12:00:00 AM)
Mihm's colorful...account of our early economic history follows a bedraggled cast of con artists, engravers, and gangsters who fueled the Republic's nascent capitalist endeavors with illicit currency. From the Vermont woodlands to the jostling thoroughfares of Manhattan, this cat-and-mouse tale of subterfuge and deceit culminates in the birth of the Federal Reserve and a true national currency. It's a story that in many ways mirrors the country's ascendance from a rangy colonial outpost to an unrivaled economic power.--Gabriel Sherman "Conde Nast Portfolio" (10/1/2007 12:00:00 AM)
[A] revelatory, entertaining book.-- "New Yorker" (11/12/2007 12:00:00 AM)
This is a fun book...Mihm's creative account of the early American economy shines, spotlighting the on-the-edge inventiveness, and over-the-edge cons, that have made the United States so rich in risk, reward and redemption.--Stephen Kotkin "New York Times" (1/6/2008 12:00:00 AM)
A brilliant description of a time in American history that seems at once distant and familiar. Mihm's book is a lucid history of counterfeiting in antebellum America, that dark art's golden age, so to speak.--Steve Fraser "The Nation" (1/28/2008 12:00:00 AM)
Between the Revolutionary era, when the Continental was America's currency, and the Civil War, which brought us the greenback, the U.S. had no national paper currency. Chartered banks and their privately issued notes proliferated. The babel of competing bills created fertile ground for counterfeits, which sprang up like mushrooms. By the 1850s, thousands of different breeds of paper passed as American money. In A Nation of Counterfeiters, Stephen Mihm's relentless sleuthing and lively prose reanimate a world in which every dollar had to be carefully read. This rogues gallery of forgers, coinshavers and engravers-gone-bad holds up a funhouse mirror to the entrepreneurial face of American money-making.--Jane Kamensky "Wall Street Journal" (3/3/2009 12:00:00 AM)