Samuel Curtis Upham was born in February 1819 in Vermont. During the early years of his life, he joined the Navy, moved to California to search for gold, and wrote a book about his adventures. His solid reputation and proud religious background earned him the nickname “Honest Sam Upham.”
By the mid 1850s, Upham had settled in Philadelphia, married, become a father, and opened a small store that sold stationery and toiletry supplies. Upham ran this store when the Civil War erupted in America, and he soon saw an opportunity to make money and cause serious trouble for the Confederacy.
Samuel’s plan began in 1862 following a commemoration of George Washington’s birthday. The Philadelphia Inquirer had printed some stories about the celebration, as well as an article that discussed how a representative from the paper had obtained an electroplate that could produce an almost perfect replica of a Confederate five dollar bill. After reading the article, Upham visited the offices of the Inquirer and convinced the employee to sell him this electroplate. He used it to print 3,000 copies of the fake fivers, which he sold from his shop as a novelty item.
Every bill he printed sold quickly, and Upham next purchased a plate for a Confederate ten dollar bill. He printed them on paper that was very similar to actual Confederate States currency. In fact, the only noticeable difference between his bills and the real thing was a small caption on the bottom that proclaimed his funny money to be a “Fac-simile Confederate Note.” It was easy to cut off the disclaimer from the bills, and Upham’s counterfeit cash made its way into the Confederate economy.
Upham continued to print more and more fake money and gained notoriety all across the country. His production value rose to the point where his bills were virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. The money became so well known that the Confederate Congress even declared counterfeiting to be a crime that was punishable by death!
Copycat counterfeiters helped to make Upham’s novel idea less profitable, and before the war was over he had stopped selling the phony bills. He claimed that during his run, he sold more than $50,000 of counterfeit money and considered himself to have been a great help to the war effort.