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Could anyone clear up for me the meaning of the word I found in Red Headed League by Conan Doyle?

John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher, and forger.

So what is "smasher" in this case?

  1. Similar to a forger who who makes fake money.
  2. Burglars who smash windows into someone's house, or smash glass showcases at the jewelry store.
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  • A forger makes fake documents in general, not just fake money. Which is why Doyle wrote smasher, and forger. May 2, 2019 at 12:34
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    I'd see Smasher as different to Counterfeiter - one who passes the coins into circulation as opposed to one who creates the bad coins in the first place.
    – Criggie
    May 3, 2019 at 0:11

2 Answers 2

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A smasher is a person who puts counterfeit coins into circulation. Here's the relevant definition from A Dictionary of Archaisms and Provincialisms (1855):

Smasher
a passer of counterfeit coin.

(This definition was in earlier sources too; the Oxford English Dictionary cites it as being in the 1795 edition of A new dictionary of all the cant and flash languages, both ancient and modern.)

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From Green’s Dictionary of Slang

Smasher (UK Und.):

(also bit(t) smasher) one who makes or passes counterfeit money.

1796 [UK] Proceedings Old Bailey 6 Apr. 443/2: Q. Were you not taken up on suspicion of being a smasher? – A. I do not know the meaning of the word. Q. Upon your oath, do not you go about with a bag, and cry ‘any bad shillings’? – A. No. [...] Q. You would be surprized, if I were to tell you a smasher means a putter off of bad money?

The term derives from the noun smasher meaning

(UK Und.) counterfeit money [? it smashes the hopes of those who use it].1790.

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  • I would've assumed the origin would be the process used to produce such fake coins - you have a negative mold of the coin you want to fake and you literally SMASH it onto some cheap material to make an impression that looks like a real coin. May 2, 2019 at 18:00
  • @DarrelHoffman - I agree, but that’s what Mr. Green suggests.
    – user 66974
    May 2, 2019 at 18:16

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