The Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) made an announcement late last month warning coin collectors about a noteworthy spike in counterfeits currently circulating through the market.

As long as money has existed, so has counterfeiting. So, in honor of the rather dishonorable (yet fascinating) culture of counterfeit currency in the U.S., let’s go over some of the details about the intertwined relationship between history, money and the counterfeiting of it. Read on, then check out our coin collector supplies, which are available for sale right here!  


Wampum Shells

You probably won’t find any wampum shells in a coin case (considering they’re not coins), but their story is interesting nevertheless. Wampum was our earliest form of currency—a tradition we picked up from the Algonquin Indians we encountered after first arriving on the eastern shores. Wampum was crafted by polishing down the shells of quahogs (clams) from Long Island Sound. It didn’t take long for traders to start mocking up fakes made out of rocks and less valuable shells. The phenomenon was so prevalent, even Roger Williams took note of it in his 1643 book, A Key into the Language of America.


The Henning Nickel

Since America was pouring much of its raw metals into the war effort during WWII, coins produced back then are valuable and rare. Thus, a man named Francis LeRoy Henning capitalized on the value of wartime coins in 1954 by producing counterfeit 1939 and 1944 nickels—well, many of them actually. While about 100,000 of them went into circulation, the authorities were quickly led onto his trail because he made a few glaring mistakes. For one, he forgot to include the Philadelphia mintmark (which is the letter “P” engraved on the reverse face just underneath “E PLURIBUS UNUM”). Speaking of e pluribus unum, he also used to wrong typeface for the letter “R” in his fakes. Before he was arrested (and sentenced to a whopping 3 years in prison), he managed to dump 400,000 of the coins in the Schuylkill and Copper Creek Rivers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, respectively.


Upham Bills

Samuel C. Upham, a Vermonter-turned-Philadelphian who lived during the 19th century, was a man of many professions.  The most prominent, of course, was his stint as a counterfeiter—sort of unknowingly. As an outspoken supporter of the Union, he enjoyed producing memorabilia that mocked and caricaturized the Confederate cause. So, he produced bogus Confederate money as a joke, and included a note on the bills’ bottoms:


Fac-simile Confederate Note - Sold wholesale and retail by S.C. Upham 403 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia


Facsimile is a Latin word that translates to “make alike,” and refers to replicas of original works (of literature, art, etc.). In other words, it admits the bills were knock-offs. However, when Southerners caught wind of what was happening, they obtained the bogus notes in droves, removed Upham’s notice, and flooded the Southern economy with them. Upham’s endeavor was hugely successful, and the government didn’t like it, but they had no legal means to stop it, so he went on replicating the Confederate currency until 1863.


Hopefully your collection doesn’t contain any counterfeits, but at least you can be certain that our coin collecting supplies are nothing other than the real deal. Browse on over to our inventory and see for yourself!