Orlin Brommer: Counterfeit Confederate money still big business

By Orlin Brommer
Cochrane, Wis
Posted: Friday, July 30, 2010

As a child, I used the words Confederate and counterfeit money interchangeably. I now have taken the time to do a little research on the relationship of these two words.

I first thought that after the War Between the States, unscrupulous Americans tried to use Confederate money in their daily transactions. Naturally businessmen would not take the valueless money. A few movies were made about unknowing people fighting over the useless money.

Lincoln’s employees were smart enough to print counterfeit money that resembled the money of the Southerners. All this funny money printed by Lincoln created chaos and helped make the money of the South even more useless, therefore helping to end the war.

Eventually the South used U.S. money to purchase supplies because nobody in Europe would honor Confederate money. Wouldn’t it be grand if our politicians were smart enough to cripple a rogue country by making its money useless?

Oops, the whole world, including rogue countries, uses our money, American money. Although some of my neighbors claim it to be almost worthless, our money is the currency of the world.

The Confederacy was a rather loosely tied organization, so each Southern state printed its own money. States back then had deficit budgets just like we do now, so the state money often was not worth very much both inside and outside that state. As large as is the economy of Califor-nia, I am surprised that Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t tried to print money yet. He could put his wife’s photo on the front of a $100 bill and his back side on the $1 bill.

During the Civil War everything was expensive, so some rebel money was printed on only one side. Often the paper was of inferior quality. Because printing money is expensive, often the serial numbers were hand written on the notes. The governor would then sign each piece of money. Numbering and signing took a lot of time, so the governor had aides hired to do the work for him. Everybody was skeptical of these bills with the variety of signatures.

Gov. Francis W. Pickens of South Carolina featured a picture of his wife on money in 1860. Now, 159 years later, I wonder whose picture the present philandering governor of South Carolina would put on state money if he were to print some. I’ll let you make your own joke here.

Although it was only 1864, the commonwealth of Virginia goofed and had the year 1888 stamped on some of its money. You can find archive photos of happy smiling slaves depicted on some Confederate money.

We can see how easy it was for counterfeiters to print useless money, but counterfeiting only got started during the war years. About 20 years after the war was over, a guy purchased an old Rebel coin-making machine, next he scraped good U.S. coins and began producing counterfeit coins that he sold as antiques. Many of these counterfeit coins are being passed around yet today.

Counterfeit Confederate money is still big business. If you own Confederate money, the chances of it being counterfeit is pretty high. More counterfeit Confederate money is being made today than ever.

Now the reason for my taking your time: In 1954 General Mills Co. decided to make play Confederate money and put it in boxes of breakfast cereal. Because General Mills sells a lot of cereal, it claims that it produced more money than did all of the Southern states during the entire Confederacy. You can purchase five or six of these bills for about 10 bucks on eBay.

A fellow from Winona contacted me to remind me that there was fake money in Cheerios boxes. He still has some, and a close relative of his swears that it is real Confederate money and keeps it in her safe. All the Cheerios money has the same few serial number (pun intended), so it is easy to distinguish. Each General Mills note has the word "facsimile" somewhere on the back.

Although there is a lot of General Mills money around, there are only a few 1950s cereal boxes that the bills came in, therefore the Cheerios boxes that brought you the funny money are worth more than the counterfeit Confederate money that was inside.

Go figure.

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