"It is not surprising that counterfeiting flourished. The combination of a generally inefficient law enforcement system, the gradual proliferation of colonial issues to copy, and the reliance on private citizens to prosecute criminals made it difficult to capture, prosecute, or punish counterfeiters. Indeed, counterfeiting in American entered a kind of golden age beginning in the early eighteenth century, an age that would last for roughly a hundred and fifty years." —from the Foreword
In the thriving commercial centers of colonial America, merchants could be paid in Spanish doubloons, British pounds, or any of the currencies each colony produced. Such a diversity of monetary forms encouraged some citizens to try their hands at counterfeiting. But the penalties for counterfeiting were harsh. Each colonial government saw it as a serious crime and meted out a variety of punishments, from cropping of ears to the gallows.
Scott examines the prevalence of counterfeiting in colonial America and the difficulties the authorities had in tracking down the offenders. He brings to life the many colorful figures who indulged in this nefarious practice, including organized gangs from Massachusetts to South Carolina, such as the members of the Dover Money Club and numerous women practitioners, including Freelove Lippincott and Mary Peck Butterworth. One of the book's most important themes is that counterfeiting was ubiquitous, transcending socioeconomic, ethnic, and gender lines. Counterfeiters had innumerable ways to practice the art, as Scott shows in illustrative detail. In a final chapter, Scott assesses counterfeiting during the Revolution, when the British government found it an effective means for undermining the fledgling national economy. The book reveals ways to determine whether notes or coins are fake. First published in 1957, Scott's research on early counterfeiting has yet to be superceded.
As much a social history of colonial America as it is a richly peopled narrative of one of the world's oldest crimes, Counterfeiting in America is sure to appeal to scholars, numismatists, and general readers alike.