A sense of immediacy

Old newspapers look into past
Published : 03/08/12
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I’ve become a big fan of Google News, an online archive of newspapers going back to the 1700s that is available through the News link at the top of the Google homepage.

I use it from time to time to fill a blank spot in the newsletter for the Central Ohio Numismatic Association. And, lately, I’ve noticed other numismatic writers using it, too, as a source for anecdotes about money and its uses.

Pre-Google News

Before Google News went live, finding a newspaper article about, say counterfeiting in 1947, was difficult to impossible.

Aside from a few big publications, like the New York Times, most old newspapers were not indexed. To find a given story, you pretty much had to know when and where it was published. Now all you have to do is plug in a keyword and you’re on your way

In late 1947, Secret Service agents in Chicago announced that they had broken up what they described as the “nation’s largest counterfeiting ring” as a result of a tip from a farmer who was paid for a Thanksgiving turkey with a bogus $20 bill.

You can read the United Press version of the story that appeared in the Dec. 6, 1947, issue of The Pittsburgh Press through Google News. Other papers, also available online, give a few more details.

The story’s pretty good. A Des Plaines, Ill., farmer sold a turkey to a stranger a few days before Thanksgiving. The farmer said he noticed that stranger George Kanakes was more interested in his change than the weight of the bird. Kanakes “didn’t watch me when I weighed the bird,” the farmer said. “I figured there was something wrong with anybody that trusting, and the fellow looked like a city slicker.”

The farmer copied the man’s license number. When he took the $20 note to the bank, he learned it was bogus and notified the Secret Service.

Kanakes didn’t get to savor the ill-gotten bird. Agents traced the license number back to him and nabbed him before the holiday. He had $2,000 in bogus bills on him when he was arrested and admitted passing $2,000 to $3,000 more. Five gangsters, including ex-con Joe Moschiano, also known as Joe Moosh, and John Brennan, were arrested. Agents said they found $350,000 in phony bills in Moschiano’s garage and thousands of counterfeits, printing plates and paper elsewhere.

Brennan engraved the plates on a farm near Schneider, Ind. Agents also confiscated a printing press, ink and bond paper there.

Google News didn’t say what happened to Moschiano, but that’s part of the charm of research, teasing out what you can.

German inflation

A Google News search of “German inflation” in 1924 newspapers reveals a side of the early 1920s hyperinflation that few people are aware of, that many Americans were still vainly waiting for Germany to honor its inflationary money.

An Associated Press story in the Nov. 14, 1924, Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator reported, “The paper mark went out of business a year ago this week when the rentenmark came into use. There was so much of it on hand that in numerous instances banks and other institutions turned the marks over to junk dealers by the ton.

“Most of the notes, which toward the end of the inflation period, were not worth the paper used in their manufacture, have been destroyed or made into pasteboard boxes and the like.

“Bankers declare there are probably more of the old German marks scattered about the United States than exist in all Germany itself.” That might explain why junk boxes are still stuffed with the stuff almost a century later.

Old newspaper articles provide a sense of immediacy and give coin collectors yet another dimension to explore.

Gerald Tebben is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel.

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