Title Reviewed:
A History of the Dollar

Author Reviewed:
Arthur Nussbaum

C. W. Efroymson


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 54, Issue 4, pp 407-407

Article Type:
Book Review

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A History of the Dollar. By Arthur Nussbaum. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957. Pp. viii, 308. Bibliography, index. $4.50.)

Rather than a history of the dollar, this book is a history of the monetary system of the United States. The author describes pre-revolutionary efforts to develop substitutes for specie money, the decentralized banking before the Civil War, subsequent struggles against the "silverites," the establishment of the Federal Reserve system, and finally the New Deal and recent international monetary developments. The emphasis of the book is anecdotal, with much attention given to legal and numismatic detail; and the author is not loath to express judgments with respect to characteristics of what he calls the "American mind" and also concerning the monetary policies of various American statesmen. Thus he devotes an equal number of pages to the Legal Tender Cases (pp. 118-123), including an unfriendly analysis of the motives of Chief Justice Chase, as to the "Rise of the Federal and Reserve System" (pp. 157-162). Among the items with which the reader is diverted are two of particular interest to Hoosiers: one about a "Bank of Morocco" discovered "after long search, in two Indiana log cabins" (p. 91); and the other about a subtreasury in Indiana (1855) which reminded the "official supervisor" of "what Robinson Crusoe's fortification was supposed to have been" (p. 95).

With respect to the economics of deflation and inflation, the author is on uncertain ground. He thinks it a "most striking phenomenon" that "the United States as well as other countries suffering from inflation seem not to give much thought to devaluation, which in the past has been resorted to as a final solution" (p. 221). This puts the cart squarely before the horse. The price rise of 1956-1957 he thinks, "has been counterbalanced to some degree by rising production, employment, and wages, by an increase in leisure time, by expansion of consumer credit …" etc. (p. 213). With respect to World War I, "prices were bound to rise considerably [inter alia] because of … the decline [my italics] in gold imports …" (p. 168).

This history will I think be of limited usefulness to readers who want to understand the development of the American monetary system. The book is provided with index, notes, bibliography, and a list of Congressional enactments having to do with monetary affairs. In view of these advantages, the reviewer ought perhaps to overlook inelegant and occasionally misleading phraseology.

Butler University, C. W. Efroymson

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.