The Goddess of the Hunt – S.C. Upham

Posted on 8/26/2014

History maintains that Upham openly advertised and bragged about his counterfeiting venture - and the Confederate bounty on his head.

S.C. Upham, an 1860s shopkeeper from Philadelphia sold wholesale Counterfeit Confederate notes as “mementos of the Rebellion” – his most famous being the “Female Riding Deer notes” (FRD). Estimates range that he was responsible for 1%-3% of the Confederate States’ total money supply.

The FRD notes circulated during the Civil War and were produced from 1862-63. In that period Upham claimed to have produced over 1.5 million Confederate counterfeits in denominations from 5 cents to $100. The FRD note was so widely circulated that it was thought to be a genuine Confederate issue into the 20th century.1 Not bad for a note printed from a woodcut plate originally conceived to be a novelty item.

People started buying up his stock of novelty notes (at 5 cents apiece) and trimming off his imprint of “Fac-similie Confederate Note – Sold wholesale and retail by S.C. Upham…” and passing them off as genuine issues in the South. The saturation of the Southern economy by these bogus notes is evident in the many varieties of copies that were produced of Upham’s FRD note.

Upham’s bogus note operation was so successful that he in fact drew attention from the Union government. Many bureaucrats speculated that to allow his operation to continue would cause Southerners to start copying Union currency. Also, allowing such an open and public counterfeiting operation did not look appropriate in the eyes of the law. But, the Union had no legal means to stop Upham as the Confederacy was not an officially recognized government in the North.

The Union officials did not want his operation to continue and to put a stop to it accused Upham of counterfeiting Union notes as well, an accusation which he hotly denied. If it were not for intervention by the then Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to get the case against Upham dismissed, he may have met the gallows. Evidently, Stanton had recognized the value of Upham’s operation in the war effort – he was single handedly destabilizing the Confederate economy. Upham wrote that Senator Foote in an address to the Confederate Congress said that Upham had “done more to injure the Confederate cause than General McClellan and his army…”

We know that Upham was the largest and most successful producer of the FRD notes, but we don’t know who originated the design. Did he copy a design of a now unknown Confederate variety, or merchant scrip? Speculation still surrounds this numismatic mystery; some maintain that Upham was indeed the originator, and others believe that the design had come from some other unidentified source.

Much of the mystery comes to light in a letter from 1874 that Upham had penned to Dr. William Lee, an early Confederate historian. Upham stated that “none of the designs of the notes were original to me” this would seem to make it abundantly clear that Upham had indeed received the designs from elsewhere. But, there are inconsistencies in this letter to Dr. Lee.2

Upham also stated that he put his name and address “on the margins of each and every note.” This, however, is untrue. It is generally recognized that notes without Upham’s imprint that are determined to be his work simply had the imprint clipped off. However, it is reported that he also supplied, upon request, notes that did not bear his imprint. Notes of Upham’s creation have been confirmed with wide blank margins that couldn’t have had the imprint clipped off.3

What the motivation would be to deny that he had originated the design is unknown. Upham did not originate the female riding deer vignette, as it was a typical printer’s cut from that period and appeared on some private banking scrip from the South. The smoking Indian vignette was commonly used for tobacco advertisements.4 This is probably where he got the designs from in the first place. Upham most likely did not originate the actual vignettes, but he was more than likely responsible for the overall design of the note. But the question still begs: how was the FRD note so widely circulated if it was an unknown design to the general public?

As the Civil War neared an end, other counterfeiters copied Upham’s business model and this forced him to lower his prices. The value of genuine Confederate currency as the war dragged on fell considerably and Southerners began to rely on Northern bills and bartering. The combination of lack of demand and a flooded market prompted Upham to cease operations in 1863.

What started as a novelty operation quickly exploded into a full fledged wartime counterfeiting operation that began to, intentionally or unintentionally, destabilize the Confederate economy and drew attention from both governments. S.C. Upham, a purveyor of stationary and perfume, through his bogus note campaign became one of the most interesting numismatic characters to emerge from the 19th century.

1. George B. Tremmel, Counterfeit Confederate Currency (Atlanta: Whitman, 2007), 234.
2. George S. Cuhaj, Editor, Confederate States Paper Money12th Edition (Iola: Krause Publications, 2012), 99-100.
3. Cuhaj, Confederate States, 100.
4. Cuhaj, Confederate States, 101.

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