counterfeiter's slang again

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sat May 29 12:27:09 UTC 2004

Dave Hause says:
> With a claim of ignorance of 19th century parlance, it strikes me
> that "300
> queers" seems more likely to mean "300 countefeit bills" than "300
> counterfeit dollars" as $1 bills, at least currently, are a
> curiosity rather
> than a practical denomination to pass.

I agree with this comment.  "Hays" was "Old Hays" (Jacob Hays) a legendary cop of the first half of the 19th C., and qualified to be an expert witness in such matters.  Perhaps the newsman misunderstood his explanatioon, in which case we would have an antedating of about 175 years of a reporter garbling an lexicographical issue.

Its true that $1 could buy you a lot more then than now.  $8/week was a good sakary,  About this same time a counterfeiter was using an elaborate process to replace the denomination numbers on bills, a process that deceived "the sharpest eyes on Wall-street" -- but he was raising $1s to $3s -- I would have thought that he would have gone for a higher value.

The paper money then was issued by banks, not the federal government, in whatever denominations they chose.  The statement "queerer than a three dollar bill" would have been meaningless.

Old Hays was testifying in a criminal case that the defendant was well known to be a villain and frequently associated with other crooks.  The defense lawyer asked: Do you know akk the bad company in this city?  Hays: Pretty near all.  Attorney: I congratulate you on the extent of your acquaintance.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African
Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.


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