The best counterfeiter in 19th century New York

As a young man in the 1840s, William Brockway prepared well for his 50-year career as the most impressive counterfeiter the city has ever seen.

First he got a job working with an engraver who created legit bank notes; he then honed his skills by taking electrochemistry classes at Yale University.

His fake notes, from small bills to $200,000 government bonds, began appearing around 1850, startling the Treasury Department with their accuracy.

After plying his trade in Philadelphia, the now-wealthy Brockway set up shop in Brooklyn and later at 31/2 Division Street in Manhattan.

He was eventually nabbed in 1880, surrendering his plates, which he stored in Queens, in order to get a lighter sentence.

Released from prison in 1887 at age 65, Brockway just couldn’t resist the counterfeiting life. After producing $500,000 in fake notes, he got caught in a sting in Rockaway Beach and returned to prison until 1903.

In 1905, the NYPD arrested him as he walked down Fulton Street downtown, just to get an updated mugshot, perhaps the one above. The “noted old forger” as he was called died in 1920 at age 97.

Check out an example of his funny money here.

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2 Responses to “The best counterfeiter in 19th century New York”

  1. Nabe News: January 6 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    [...] “Noted Old Forger” of city past.  William Brockway was one of the most advanced counterfeiters in nineteenth century New York [Ephemeral [...]

  2. Lisa Says:

    “….died penniless in 1903, and only received a proper tombstone in 2001 thanks to the efforts of retired Secret Service agents. ”

    Huh. I guess coppers have a certain reverence & respect for formidable adversaries? Or, maybe they just wanted it properly marked, so they could piss on his grave.

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