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Sam Upham's Fakes
By Fred Reed, Coins Magazine
February 12, 2008

A Southern gentleman wrote the Confederate Treasury secretary late in 1861 telling him that northerners in New York and Philadelphia "were preparing.…a large issue of counterfeit Treasury Notes of the Confederate States."

"The counterfeits are to be sent in and flood our country, with a view to destroy the genuine notes as a currency," the Georgian proclaimed. "It seems to be encouraged by the authorities."

In hindsight there is scant credible evidence that a plot was undertaken by Federals. It is undeniable, however, that northern-made bogus Confederate facsimiles circulated south of the Mason Dixon Line during the war.

These pseudo-Confederate notes plagued the Southern officials, their economy and sapped their morale.

Sam Upham, whose imprint can be seen on the note shown here, was a snake oil salesman who is famous in the numismatic hobby for bogus Rebel notes. By his own estimation, this carny hawker was the "best abused man in the Confederacy."

Sifting fact from fancy when talking about Upham is like trying to separate the skin of the bubble from the air inside.…whoosh it just disappears.

Upham, by his own account, began his rise to "fame" in March, 1862, when he purchased an electrotype plate from the publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer that had been used to produce a replica Confederate $5 note in that newspaper's Feb. 24, 1862, issue.

Upham's stock in trade was patent medicines. His best sellers were his Asthma Cure said to remedy "cases of ten to twenty years standing," his Pimple Banisher that "softens the skin and beautifies the complexion," and his Japanese Hair Stain whose coloring "will not fade or wash out."

He was also an author, and publisher of patriotic envelopes, letter sheets, song sheets and the like. All of these are highly collectible today. As a printer he became interested in reproducing Rebel currency to extend his sales line. It was a smart move, and Upham's facsimiles are rabidly collected by hobbyists today.

Sam Upham was a showman, a genuine 19th-century pitchman. A biographer once called him "Satan's Paymaster." In his defense, Upham draped himself in the Union banner. He claimed his efforts harmed those engaged in insurrection.

Typical of his ads is: "CONFEDERATE MONEY $20,000! - TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS in fac-simile REBEL NOTES of different denominations sent, postpaid, to any address, receipt of $5 by S. C. Upham, 403 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia."

Upham's ads commenced April 12, 1862, in Harper's Weekly and continued there until Feb. 7, 1863, whereupon he returned to advertising his toiletries.

In all he claims to have reproduced 15 varieties of Confederate postage stamps and 28 types of Confederate notes, including scrip. Upham's business grew until, by his own admission, he produced 1,564,050 facsimile Confederate notes worth at face - he estimated - $15 million.

Upham wasn't alone as a Confederate faker. But if this supreme Rebel note hawker did indeed print $15 million nominal value of his fakes, sales at the rate of $5/$20,000 grossed him a nifty $3,750 for his "patriotic" efforts. By comparison, a government clerk of that period took down about $1,000/annum and a Union private but $156 yearly. So Upham's business was pretty good for 11 month's work!

There's little doubt that this most famous of Rebel counterfeiters did plague Southern finances to some extent. Shortly after Upham cranked up his presses, a Pennsylvania private wrote home to his brother from camp near Culpepper Court House in Virginia about the fake CSA tenspots like the one shown here.

"The boys buy a good many of them around camp for ten cents apiece and after steeping them in coffee to give them color they would take them to the Farmers and pass them for good Confederate Money."

Collectors of vintage Confederate fakes like Upham's have a handy guidebook thanks to the efforts of collector/researcher George Tremmel.

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