Magician of the Week #26: Offtop

Enjoy this sight in future nightmares

Enjoy this sight in future nightmares

Taken from:

offtop-fullThis is one of dozens of pieces of stage currency in the Percival Collection. Much of it was used by magicians as advertising material.

 

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Included among the thousands of ephemeral items in our Harris Collection on the Civil War & Slavery (recently organized by Robin Alario—finding aid available as a pdf) is a folder with dozens of samples of Confederate currency. Some are issued by the Confederate States of America:

Some by individual states:

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Some, like the first image and the one below, include cancellation marks:

According to The International Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Numismatics, a cancelled bill is a “note rendered worthless as money by having been officially overprinted, perforated, slit, or in some other way invalidated.” In this case, the triangular and circular cuts indicate that the bill has been cancelled.

But what about counterfeit bills? Fortunately our collection includes a copy of Heath’s Infallible Counterfeit Detector at Sight (Boston: Laban Heath, 1864 — 864.16 H437h SpecColl). Published contemporaneously with the bills above, Heath’s manual outlines various methods used to prevent counterfeits, including the designs produced with the “Geometrical Lathe,” which “Cannot be Successfully Imitated.” The fine engraved lines like those produced by this “wonderful and beautiful engine” were one of the foremost tools of the anti-counterfeit trade. Here’s an example from the reverse of a ten dollar note:

and a closeup detail:

 

Heath’s manual is well-illustrated, including, most dramatically, a print from a plate taken from actual counterfeiters:

For the purpose of more fully illustrating the difference between genuine and counterfeit engraving, we have at great trouble and expense obtained a counterfeit plate engraved by counterfeiters and taken from them at the time of their arrest. This plate is in the hands of the American Bank Note Company, from which these specimens are printed…

 

For more information, the Numismatic Bibliomania Society’s website includes a bibliography and other helpful resources.