MAY 01, 1960 by LAWRENCE NOONAN
At the time this article was written, Mr. Noonan was a businessman in Seattle.
The Courtroom was hushed as the judge entered the chamber. It was crowded and many people could find standing room only. The trial, of course, had attracted nationwide interest and you could almost reach out and feel the expectancy.
The defendant, Charles Akins, was a rather small and timid-looking man. Perhaps the timidity was a matter of fear—surely the somber courtroom and the overpowering majesty of the law were enough to inspire fear in a defendant. Mr. Akins certainly did not look like a criminal. As a matter of fact, he really looked quite respectable. But he did look frightened. And yet, there was determination there. And just a gleam of courage shining through, too.
Perhaps we should tell you now that the year was 1975. Not that there was anything so special about ’75. Children went to school, grew up, worked, got married, and reared their own children. People went to church, voted, talked politics, argued, and endeavored to understand the subtleties of economics. But, all of it was just a little bit different. Especially in the way that people looked at things.
The Judge, the Honorable Warren Faber, having completed the preliminary ceremonies, was looking rather curiously, we thought, at the defendant.
"Mr. Akins," he said, "it is my understanding that you have retained no counsel and that you wish to defend yourself. Considering the gravity of the charge against you, I feel that you might like to reconsider."
"No, your honor," Akins replied, "I am going to defend myself."
"Mr. Akins, you are charged with a federal offense and are being tried in a federal court. You are charged with usurping the function of the government, of undermining and attempting to replace the monetary system of this country. With serious charges of this nature why will you not avail yourself of counsel?"
Mr. Akins seemed to be shivering slightly.
"Your honor, the facts have already been more or less determined. This is a matter of right or wrong. There isn’t any legal thing involved here. I’m not guilty of anything. I simply want to tell what happened. I want to tell my story. I don’t need any lawyer to do that."
The Prosecuting Attorney, Arnold Spear, leaped to his feet. "Your honor, I object. The defendant is attempting to tell the court what is right and wrong. Further, I object to the statement that all of the facts are known."
"Objection overruled. This court will make its findings when the time comes. The defendant does have the right to represent himself. Mr. Akins, you have been sworn in. Now tell us what you consider to be your story."
"Well, this is the way it was. Back in 1957 my company, Trans-World Mining, became interested in increasing the market for our principal product—platinum. We had expanded our mining considerably and we needed more in the way of sales. We believed that platinum could be used far more extensively in jewelry and we bought a well-known jewelry manufacturing firm. We experimented with combining platinum with another metal, and we came up with something very beautiful and practical."
Judge Faber interrupted. "Mr. Akins, let me interrupt a minute. Up to this point you have simply told us that you were a mining company and had turned to the manufacture of jewelry from platinum?"
"Yes sir, that is correct. We had considerable success with the manufacture of jewelry, but as the years went by we began to notice a very unusual thing."
The Judge leaned forward intently. There was absolute quiet in the courtroom.
"We had manufactured small disk-like pieces of jewelry with some fine detail work on each side. Each piece had a small hole near one edge and we had intended them as pieces suitable for pendants. They sold for fifty, a hundred, and two hundred dollars apiece. Frankly, we had not expected to sell too many of them. But as time passed, we began to experience something unusual. As I said, in the beginning, we didn’t know how much to expect in the way of sales from a simple little piece like this. But as the years went by, the sales on this one small piece of adornment jewelry exceeded the sale of everything else the company was making! We couldn’t understand it. These small pieces—originally priced at $50 to $200, and later at higher figures as the dollar price of platinum rose along with prices of everything else—were going like hot cakes. This went on and on. Finally, I had a market research outfit do a survey to find out why we were selling so many of these."
Charles Akins paused and licked his lips. The audience in the room was quiet but tense. Although they didn’t have a doubt about the outcome of the trial, it was fascinating to hear this story from the man himself. After all, you didn’t defy the government these days and get away with it!
Akins went on. "We discovered that people were buying these as an investment. People had become terribly afraid of the government’s solvency. The government had issued barrels full of paper money. It wasn’t even backed by gold any more. You couldn’t even get gold."
Arnold Spear had jumped to his feet again. There was contempt in his eyes as he looked to and the defendant. "Your honor, the defendant is beating about the bush. These things about paper money and gold are ridiculous! He’s completely dodging the main issue—what was written on those coins?"
Little Mr. Akins was growing bolder.
"Your honor, it is my turn now to object. This was not a coin. We did not make these as coins. We did put an inscription on this piece of jewelry which conveyed—in a foreign tongue—Eternal Love. We had expected that this piece would be used for gift purposes. However, many people also interpreted this quotation to mean Eternal Value. Later on, this piece of jewelry began to be used by people in trade. They recognized and trusted the purity of its alloy. It had real value to them not only as an ornament but also as a medium of exchange. And as it came more and more into use in trade, this new use gave it still added value. People began saving them, hoarding them. We increased our production many times. We almost eliminated the manufacture of all other platinum items. The people wanted these. They were demanding them."
Akins paused again. He seemed to be either waiting to be challenged by the Prosecuting Attorney or for a request for clarification from the Judge. Nothing happened. Both the Judge and Arnold Spear had become absorbed in the story.
Akins proceeded now with growing confidence. He was on familiar ground. Regardless of the outcome, he had only one course and he followed it.
"Naturally, we were in business to make a profit. However, we, too, had become very apprehensive about the monetary situation and the government’s policy. We finally decided that in addition to selling the platinum pieces, we would also make them the basis of our accounting and billing system—our private monetary unit. Thus, we began to use them as a medium of exchange. Of course, we were soon threatened by the Treasury Department. But they couldn’t really do anything about it. Anyway, they didn’t try. But later the value of the paper money in the country became almost worthless and they tried to blame Trans-World Mining for it. There was wild inflation. But the platinum pieces kept their value. People kept these whereas they would have kept gold if they could have gotten it. The government’s paper money became almost worthless."
There was now both triumph and despair in Akins’ voice.
"Well, it was almost incredible what had happened. The chaos became almost indescribable. People became frantic to get more of these platinum pieces. Where the value of paper money was going down and down, the value of the platinum piece was going up. It became the only sound means of exchange in the country."
Sadly he continued. "People came to realize that sound money was just as important as liberty itself. They found that there wasn’t any honest freedom without honest money."
Another pause. "But now the government needs a scapegoat and they’ve got me. They want to put their own blame on someone else."
We won’t bore you with the cross examination by Arnold Spear, the Prosecuting Attorney. He was eager for a conviction and the rhetoric thundered in the court. He likened Akins to one guilty of treason, of plotting the downfall of his own country. Akins was morally a leech and legally far worse. The thunder rolled on and on.
We don’t know yet what the verdict is. The jury is still out.