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Coin counterfeiters met with death

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Was counterfeiting coins ever a capital offense in the United States?

Benjamin Franklin used the slogan “to counterfeit is death” on Colonial paper money and he printed it for a reason. George Washington demanded David Farnsworth and John Blair, two British forgers during the Revolutionary War, be tortured to learn what they knew. Farnsworth and Blair were then hanged. On the other side of Atlantic Thomas Rogers was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1690 for clipping silver coins. His wife Anne Rogers was burned alive. Perhaps both the colonists and the British could have learned from Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (ruled A.D. 527-565) who employed rather than executed counterfeiter Alexander “the Barber.”

An image of the fake 2005 South Africa gold quarter krugerrand in a fake NGC holder.

An image of the fake 2005 South Africa gold quarter krugerrand in a fake NGC holder.

Why was counterfeiting considered to be a capital offense?

Counterfeiting currency has always been considered a threat to the state, as well as an affront to the royal prerogative in a kingdom. It was believed a harsh punishment should be given to anyone who had the skill of counterfeiting money for that reason.

Who, in your opinion, was the most famous counterfeiter in the United States?

In my opinion this dubious distinction would have to go to Emanual Ninger (1845-1924), better remembered to history as “Jim the Penman.” Ninger was a German immigrant who lived in first Hoboken, later in Westfield, and finally in Flagtown, all in New Jersey. Ninger didn’t print his bogus $10, $20, $50 and $100 bank notes. He drew each one by hand! The paper for each note was purchased from Crane & Company, the same company selling security printing paper to the government. The Secret Service caught up with Ninger in 1896 when the ink began to run on one of the notes he was trying to pass at a bar. The bar was wet.

Is it legal to collect counterfeit U.S. coins?

It is illegal to collect counterfeit coins or bank notes, including those notes attributed to “Jim the Penman.” Having said this, the laws on ownership of counterfeit coins or bank notes are sufficiently vague and so seldom enforced that this becomes an open question. There are people who collect counterfeit U.S. or foreign coins and bank notes. Coins of several famous counterfeiters including Carl Wilhelm Becker (1772-1830) have been illustrated and cataloged for collectors who openly seek them. Likely the best non-legal advice is to acknowledge a coin is a counterfeit if you are buying or selling one in a private transaction.

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