Circulating Counterfeits: Making Money and Its Meanings in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Counterfeiting flourished in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world. Counterfeiters took advantage of the unstandardized nature of the colonial money supply and patchwork colonial legal codes to build regional and even Atlantic-wide counterfeiting networks that operated much like any other eighteenth-century business. This project reconstructs the lives of these men and women, arguing that their actions had wide-ranging implications for market development, cultures of money, and imperial authority. Counterfeits shaped daily economic transactions as people evaluated money, and each other, to minimize their own risks. Counterfeits also became enmeshed in larger debates about sovereignty and empire. During the American Revolution, counterfeiters threatened the political legitimacy of the United States; post-revolution, the rise of industrial counterfeiting challenged British authority in its remaining Atlantic possessions. Combining social, cultural, and political history, this project demonstrates that money itself has a history, of which counterfeiting is an important chapter.