Ogdensburg, New York: 1820. Envelope or Cover. This one page, stampless folded letter measures 15.5” by 9.5” unfolded. It was sent by Gouverneur Ogden in upper New York to Nicholas Low in New York City. The letter is datelined “Madrid 1 Nov. 1820” and bears a circular Ogdensburgh, New York postmark dated 5 November along with a manuscript rate marking “1½ oz $1.11”. In nice shape. A transcript will be provided.
The letter reads in part:
"In Respect to the Counterfeit Bill of $5 which you rec’d from me in a Remittance on land acct, I submit it to your determination whether a gent ought to be responsible to his municipal under similar Circumstances – and particularly where the Commission red’ is so small. Because if he is accountable, $20 Bill of the same spurious Money, altho’ admirably executed & capable of staggering the opinion of the officers themselves, of the particular Bank of which it is a forger, would sweep away the Compensation of the agency for a Year at least, & perhaps, have the agent indebted to his principal.”. Very good. Item #010135
The Ogden Family made their fortune by purchasing huge tracks of land in northern and western New York from the Iroquois Confederacy which it sold in small lots to white settlers at an enormous profit. Additionally, members were instrumental in the construction of the Erie Canal as well as harbors, mills, and turnpikes that encouraged emigration to the region surrounding Ogdensburgh. Low was a wealthy merchant and land speculator who acquired several large tracts of land, apparently from the Ogdens, and was instrumental in developing the Watertown and Lowville settlements in upper New York.
Counterfeiting ran rampant during the early years of the United States, especially in New York. A chronic lack of currency and coinage led individual banks and businesses to print a wide variety of paper money. By 1820, the region was flooded with these private bills which met the needs of an ever-expanding economy. Upon presentation of these bills at the issuing bank, bearers could receive their value in gold or silver. Their wide variety of designs and quality created a system that was easily abused by counterfeiters. As well, many bills were issued by questionable or insolvent bank companies that had no intention of ever redeeming them. Thus, it was nearly impossible for the public to determine whether a bill issued by an unfamiliar bank was in fact legitimate. To aid in detecting false notes, descriptions of counterfeit bills were continuously published as broadsides and in newspapers, especially the Niles Register. Eventually, enterprising book publishers began to combine this information into “counterfeit detector” manuals. Still, the problem continued, and it has been estimated that by the time of the Civil War, half of the currency in circulation was counterfeit. It wasn’t until the Secret Service was given the responsibility for protecting the nation’s currency in 1865 that counterfeiting began to significantly decline.
(For more information ,see “Ogden family papers, 1790s-1850s” at the University of Michigan Library website, many issues of the Niles Register, and William’s “Mahlon Day’s Originary Counterfeit Dectecter, 1828” at the American Numismatic Society’s website.)
Scarce. At the time of listing, no letters regarding counterfeit bills are for sale in the trade. None have appeared at auction per the Rare Book Hub. Five are held at institutions per OCLC..