Hard Way to Make a Buck in West Virginia - West Virginia Strong

Hard Way to Make a Buck in West Virginia

In the days after the Civil War there was an industrious West Virginian who went into the counterfeiting business. He began making and using his own US silver dollars. He was eventually visited by agents of US government who had tracked the counterfeit dollars back to the man. They did not arrest him, but they did tell him to stop minting his own silver dollars. The reason they did not arrest him is simple: He was using more silver in his counterfeit dollars than the government was, so his homemade money was worth more than the government sanctioned currency.

This is one of my favorite West Virginia legends. Sure, it has some holes in it. Some folks claim he had a silver mine on his property, but reports of silver mines in West Virginia are disputed. Second, if he had that much silver, why bother making fake dollars? Why not just sell the silver?

But, I don’t worry about the why. Maybe the guy didn’t want to let on he had discovered silver on his place. Maybe he was trying to impress a young woman by displaying a fat purse of coin. Maybe he wanted to ‘make it rain’ at the local dance hall. On further consideration, tossing silver dollars around might be better called ‘make it hail,’ and is likely dangerous. Maybe the local stores didn’t accept silver nuggets.

My wife was driving through the backwoods of West Virginia one time and stopped at a store to buy a soda. She offered the clerk a Susan B. Anthony dollar as payment. The clerk said, “I can’t take that. We only take American money.” My wife pointed to the various words struck on the coin that made clear it was a US dollar sanctioned and minted by the US government. The clerk studied the coin and then pronounced, “Well, we only take regular American money.” The WV Division of Tourism probably doesn’t want me spreading that story, but there are one or two dimwitted West Virginians.

Maybe the clerk my wife met had a great-great grandpa who ran a store that only accepted regular American money and thus our counterfeiter was forced to convert his raw precious metal into silver coins.

The why of the story aside, I like this little tale because it illustrates the industry, or hard work, artistry, and honesty of Mountaineers.

It’s got to be hard work to mine silver, extract the ore, and melt it.

Then our guy had to make molds or stamps that looked like a US silver dollar. My guess is that that would involve carving very small letters and portraits on a hard material. Maybe he wasn’t that good of an artist and that’s why he got caught. Or maybe he was a bad speller. That’s not the point! He had a problem, or a job, that required him to employ his artistic skills, and he didn’t hesitate.

Then he had to pour the molten silver in the mold, or somehow make silver discs, and then whack them with the stamp. If it seems like I don’t know a thing about counterfeiting coins, good.

My point is- there have got be easier ways to make a buck then by actually making a dollar.

The sweetest part of the story is that our would-be criminal didn’t want to defraud anyone. He wasn’t trying to get something by paying less than it was worth. He wasn’t trying to stiff the shopkeeper. He wasn’t trying to get over on the government. He wasn’t stealing. He was putting in an honest day’s work for every dollar he made. He made sure every dollar he made was worth at least a dollar. And, like any good artist, he produced a final product that not only honored the muse on which it was based, but in fact increased the value of the original item.

I am not suggesting that you start printing your own money, let me be clear on that! I’m just saying that this state is filled with hard working, creative, ingenious people who are willing to find ways to get by, and that is something of which we should be proud.

Bil Lepp is a nationally renowned storyteller and a PEN Award winning author. To see more of Bil's WV Strong content click here. 


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