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By Peter B. High

A survey of the English prose, poetry and drama of the us from Colonial instances to the1980s.

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36 Beyond its function as social comment, therefore, Poe’s laconic remark reveals a deeply felt need for a circulating currency that would serve as a stable medium of exchange in everyday commercial transactions. Paper money of course can satisfy the need for a stable medium of exchange. In theory at least, such money could assume many guises. State-chartered or independent commercial banks were authorized to issue paper, whereas the so-called “private banks” unofficially issued notes by what they considered to be a common-law right.

Another survey, of 1859, listed some 9,916 different genuine notes and some 5,400 different kinds of counterfeit notes in circulation. ”25 Paper money thus often was the happiness the rich bought from the poor —“the prosperity that the designing man [the speculator] steals from the unwary”26— yet it also was not always a boon to the rich but might easily lead to bankruptcy. 27 In contrast to Briggs’s novel, Poe’s tale is about a fortune regained, though all is not well that ends well. For instance, were the happy money-finders 26 The Monetary Imagination of Edgar Allan Poe to use the treasure for paying their dues to the United States government, the revenue officers likely would refuse them.

The latter is given in dollars, estimated by the happy moneyfinders at “a million and a half of dollars,” which is equal to at least thirty million dollars in today’s depreciating currency. The precision in Poe’s account is also a neat reminder of the invention, around 1840, of the word “millionaire” to describe those five percent of white males who then owned some seventy percent of the real and personal property. 46 Critics and readers alike have been puzzled by the fact that “The Gold-Bug” is so neatly divided into two roughly equal parts.

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