News of the indictment of Bernard von NotHaus in the Western District of North Carolina startled me this morning.
The charge seems to essentially be counterfeiting.
Why is this a surprise?
Suppressing counterfeits has been a mission of government since the republic was founded in 1776 and by the Secret Service since its earliest days.
Since its founding in 1865, historically vigorous Secret Service enforcement has led to some mighty strange actions, including confiscating paintings that depict paper money. In my lifetime even putting currency on beach towels has been a no-no.
However, the dominant trend during the last 25 or 30 years has been a growing leniency. Perhaps this is the turning point.
I have met von NotHaus. He used to operate the Royal Hawaiian Mint and produced fascinating pieces in silver and gold of what could have been the coins of the 19th century Kingdom of Hawaii. They were sold to tourists and to collectors.
The work was beautiful.
He sold that business. He went on to marketing silver and gold pieces he called Liberty Dollars that could be coins of the United States, but aren’t, and began marketing them as some form of substitute currency.
I don’t think anyone would actually mistake his products as U.S. coinage – certainly not collectors – but the claim of alternative money apparently is a dangerous one.
What really puzzles me, if I have read this right, is that the action is based on the silver and gold pieces and not the paper certificates he also issued.
That strikes me as the strangest part of all.