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Desperate Treasury Approved Photographic Detectors
counterfeit bank notesBy Fred L. Reed III, Bank Note Reporter
July 09, 2008
counterfeit bank notes

Part 37

All students of 19th century counterfeiting in the United States have found that fakes increased with the adoption of a national federal currency. The central government did more than merely inherit the problems of the several states in this arena. They poured gas on the fire. According to one author, "The Counterfeiters were quick to make the changeover from bank issues to the national currency. ... Numbers of the new government notes soon began appearing from sources other than the government as counterfeiters began to make the conversion."(1)

Another wrote: "Like the rest of the American public, counterfeiters adjusted to the new national currency (i.e. the greenbacks) quickly. In fact, they preferred it to the old banknotes."(2) He continues: "A Philadelphia shopkeeper who would have studied a fifty-dollar banknote from the Planter's Bank of Tennessee would accept a U.S. fifty-dollar bill without a second thought."(3)

And again: "Then came the break every American counterfeiter dreamed of. The federal government's decision in 1862 to issue a national currency gave engravers ... along with distributors ... an unprecedented opportunity to strike it rich."(4)

"Congress hoped," wrote yet another author, "that refined printing techniques and the use of green ink on the reverse side of the notes would eliminate the counterfeiting problem.(5) However, even though the new system made it easier to detect counterfeit money, the nation's coney men (as counterfeiters were known) proved up to the task of churning out well-crafted bogus greenbacks."(6)

The feds were woefully slow off the mark in securing their currency. "It was a grave situation, because without that currency the Union war effort would have been seriously hamstrung.(7) Secret Service Chief Col. William Wood claimed (without "gross exaggeration," according to one student of the subject) that half the currency in circulation was counterfeit.(8)

Federal difficulties were exacerbated because much of this clandestine activity was beyond the long arm of the law. According to an early writer, Lynn Glaser, "Enterprising shysters could even take their [bogus] money south with them where there was a ready market for United States Government paper money."(9)

In the rebellious states during the war, even a queer Yankee sawbuck was highly desirable and passed with little scrutiny since it was much more valuable than the deeply depreciated rebel trash. "To meet the demand in Dixie, enterprising shovers carried bags of false currency down South, where no one was familiar enough with the new Yankee money to be able to distinguish between the real and the counterfeit."(10)

Circulation of fake greenbacks in the South no doubt transpired, but the hyperbole and exaggeration in the reporting of it strains credulity. For example, one modern author makes the leap of insinuating that Col. William P. Wood, himself, organized a cartel to circulate fake greenbacks in the insurrectionary districts. He writes: "And there were stories of Wood's sending counterfeit currency to Union prisoners of war, so that they could buy food, clothes, and other necessities from their clueless Confederate guards." He goes on to conclude by supposition that these stories must be true!(11)

If trying to police the insurrectionary districts were not problem enough, federal surveillance and apprehension of the illicit trade was NOT even merely an intramural dilemma. Faking of the U.S. Legal Tender Notes had become an international phenomenon. Federal greenbacks had attracted crooks across the pond, too.

According to Frank Moore's Rebellion Record, on April 12, 1863, an engraver was arrested at Sheffield England "and committed on charge of forging the Treasury Notes of the United States."(12)

Congress, which was given the responsibility and power to police the currency by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, wrestled ineffectively with the problem during the first years of the war. Eventually, once the war was won and then practically on the fly, the Treasury Department created ad hoc a policing service and ensconced Col. William Wood as its head.

As we have shown in earlier chapters of this series, Wood's agents (and those of Col. Lafayette C. Baker before him) with the assistance of paid informants were somewhat successful in cracking down on the nefarious cons, but ineffective prosecutions, limited sentences, and Presidential pardons wrecked havoc in stemming the tide.

Additional fake $10 greenbacks turned up when detectives busted a New York City counterfeiting ring for bogus $100 Compound Interest Treasury Notes in summer 1866.(13) The hundreds were a pariah.(14) One of the gang was Wm. H. Bartlett, alias "Billy Buck." At a hearing, Bartlett was accused of passing 10 bogus tens to detective J.O. Murray for "$30 in good money" on Dec. 13, 1865, at an ale vault [subterranean bar]. The defendant offered no defense, and was bound over for trial in lieu of bail.(15) Col. Wood offered extensive testimony in the case.

To bolster the Secret Service efforts of Col. William Patrick Wood's federal anti-counterfeiting detective force operating under the Solicitor of the Treasury, Congress coughed up additional dough.(16) In spring 1866, Congress appropriated another $50,000 to bring to justice persons engaged in counterfeiting.(17) Solons quickly raised the stakes only three months later, when an additional $150,000 was appropriated for this purpose. This amount nearly doubled in one fell swoop the amount Congress had appropriated to battle counterfeiting since the beginning of the republic!(18)

Treasury moved on other fronts too. In an unprecedented move, Secretary McCulloch permitted Derby, Conn., entrepreneur Robert C. Naramore to photograph genuine face impressions of legal tender and Original Series First Charter National Currency and publish card photographs of the bills at 25 percent size as a photographic counterfeit detector in 1866. The sepia currency images were styled as "Souvenir[s] of the United States Treasury Notes and National Bank Notes. By Photographic Copies of the Circulating Notes issued by Act of Congress, taken from Proof Impressions on file in the U.S. Treasury Depar't. (sic) Published by permission of Hon. H. McCulloch, Sec'y U.S. Treasury." See the example of the Naramore $10 Legal Tender Note card shown.

The complete set of reduced-size card photos numbered 18 items. Depicted were legal tender and National Bank Notes in all denominations $1-$1,000. Inclusion of sample National Bank Notes was a plus.(19) Since they were duplicated from proof notes, seals, serial numbers and signatures are not shown.

The cards were published by the American Photograph Co. Bridgeport, Conn., and copyrighted in the District Court of Connecticut. Cards are similarly sized to contemporary photographic cartes de visite. As can be seen on the $10 Legal Tender Naramore card shown, the monochromatic image of the note face was affixed to the card and circumscribed by a gold border.(20) According to an earlier writer, "They [Naramore cards] were the first to illustrate current circulating currency, a practice that was soon discontinued."(21)

Naramore patented his photo card designs on July 19, 1866.(22) Apparently, he then submitted the idea to the Treasury Department for approval. Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch granted him permission on July 30, 1866. "Such permission is hereby granted," McCulloch wrote, providing the images were only one-fourth size and complied with instructions of the even (same) date he had addressed to the American, National and Continental Bank Note Companies in New York City.(23)

The currency images were printed on a single large sheet approx. 9 by 10 1/2 inches, which was either mounted on card as a wall poster, or cut singly and mounted on cards for sale as sets.(24) On Nov. 28, 1866, Naramore sent six copies of his photographic counterfeit detector to the Treasury Department. McCulloch acknowledged the gift on Dec. 1. He commended the effort as "beneficial to the country," and wished Naramore financial success as well.(25) Sets were sold for $2 each.(26)

A new rush of fakes inundated Gotham in late summer 1866. This time the bogus bills were $50 Compound Interest Treasury Notes and several new National Bank Note fakes. By then, however, the prevalence of bad $10 bills in circulation had set up something of a standard by which to judge the new fakes. This led a reporter to characterize the new imitation's engraving as "far superior to the $10 and $20 counterfeits."(27)

A couple months later teenager Edward Vreeland was made to appear before Commissioner Newton on the charge of "issuing a counterfeit $10 note." His employer George C. Beets testified to the defendant's sterling character. Vreeland's mother informed the court that her son had been discharged from a ship several weeks earlier, and had been sick. She had given the boy the note in question believing it to be good. "The Commissioner, without further examination, ordered that the prisoner be honorably discharged."(28)

In November 1866, two members of a highly organized ring of blackguards, who were pushing bogus Legal Tender Notes and Fractional Currency, were arrested by Secret Service operatives in New York City. John Disbrow and Joseph Bradley were hauled before U.S. Commissioner Osborn on Nov. 12th to face charges. Assistant U.S. District Attorney Bell prosecuted the matter.

Federal lawman Edwin S. Bruce was the chief witness for the government. According to Bruce, he first assailed the defendants on June 1, and three days later approached the men at their business establishment in East Houston Street. He told defendant Disbrow he wanted counterfeit $5s and $10s. The defendant told him he hadn't any at the moment, because he had just dispatched $6,000 worth earlier that day.

So they struck off a bargain for the purchase of $30 face value in bad 50-cent Fractionals at half price. Delivery was to be the following day, because as Disbrow said "he never carried any counterfeit money with him; it was kept in the building where it was manufactured."

The lawman continued: "[H]e (Disbrow) said any time I wanted 5s or 10s to write him and he would send me the value of it in as good goods as there was in the market."

Bruce's testimony was corroborated in part by another G-man Ichabod C. Nettleship, who confirmed that Disbrow confessed to him that he had sold counterfeit fractionals to Bruce.(29) He also said that the defendant reported "that Bruce was going to write to him for some fives and tens."(30)

But in an ironic turn of affairs, Nettleship indicated that Secret Service Chief Wood had instructed him "to get Bruce if I could," impeaching in part the prior witness. Both defendants were bound over for trial.(31)

On Dec. 22, 1866, in the U.S. Circuit Court in New York City, Catharine McCarthy pled guilty to passing counterfeit $10 notes. She was sentenced to imprisonment in the Albany Penitentiary (Sing Sing) at hard labor for two years and six months. At the same court session, William S. Nice, also pleaded guilty to passing a counterfeit $10 Treasury Note. He was sentenced at hard labor for two years. (32)

To be continued ...

A Note on the Counterfeit $10 U.S. Note illustrations

Possession of counterfeit U.S. currency is subject to confiscation. Study and analysis over many years, however, has identified numerous Series 1862/63 $10 Legal Tender Note fakes which are desirable to put on the record. For years Krause Publications' Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money illustrated these bogus notes for historical purposes, and for comparison to suspect (genuine) notes.

We have recorded these bogus ten-spots in groups by Friedberg type. In the previous installments we illustrated CF93 Group 1: characterized by (a) large starburst; (b) border near NBNCo imprint; (c) 15 by 16 Xs in top border; (d) small loop to flourish on signature (eight examples). Also, CF93 Group 2: characterized by (a) medium starburst; (b) border far from NBNCo imprint; (c) 16 x 14 Xs; (d) large loop to flourish on signature (four examples); and CF93 Group 3: characterized by (a) filled starburst; (b) border very near to NBNCo imprint; (c) 15 x 15 Xs; (d) large flourish on signature (two examples). This time we will focus on CF94 (four examples); and in a future installment we will show CF95 (one example) and some comparisons of design elements.

CF 94 examples include:

1- New Series 23, C 15, sn 53729
2- New Series 23, C 15, sn 18159
3- New Series 23, C 15, sn 7953
4- New Series 23, C 15, sn 35075

A Personal Note

As always, I welcome feedback from Bank Note Reporter readers. We cover a lot of ground in this column, and it's surprising what sparks the interest of individuals. Questions, comments, cheers or jeers are welcome. You can contact me at or by mail at P.O. Box 118162, Carrollton, TX 75011-8162. If you write and wish a reply, please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope, but please be aware that if your subject is of interest generally it may be addressed in a future column instead.

End Notes

1. Lynn Glaser, Counterfeiting in America: The History of An American Way to Wealth, Clarkson N. Potter, 1960, pp. 103-104.
2. Thomas J. Craughwell, "The World of Counterfeiters," in Stealing Lincoln's Body, Harvard University Press, 2007, p. 41.
3. ibid.
4. op cit., p. 50
5. This is not true! Although green ink was applied to the note backs, hence greenbacks, it was hoped that the green security tints applied to the note FACES would be inseparable chemically from the black ink on the note FACES, and thus immune to photographic manipulation and duplication. The backs of these notes could as easily have been red, blue, chartreuse, or pink.
6. Philip H. Melanson, The Secret Service: the Hidden History of an Enigmatic Agency, Barnes & Noble Books, 2002, p. 4.
7. Glaser, p. 105.
8. Glaser, p. 113; this outrageous overstatement has been verily cited as holy writ by writers for the past century and become increasingly popular an assertion with contemporary authors, such as Thomas J. Craughwell in "The Counterfeiters World," in Stealing Lincoln's Body, Harvard University Press, 2007, p. 41: "By 1864 approximately half the paper money in circulation in the North was counterfeit." Or, Melanson, op cit., p. 3-4: "By the time that Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Rebel Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, between one-third and one-half of all U.S. currency in circulation was counterfeit." I will dispatch this false notion in a future column.
9. Glaser, p. 103.
10. Craughwell, p. 41.
11. For all the merits of Craughwell's book, his sourcing of secondary and not primary material is suspect. The trouble with this patronizing inference is that the author references David R. Johnson's usually informative Illegal Tender: Counterfeiting and the Secret Service in Nineteenth Century America, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995, p. 70, to back up his farfetched allegation. Johnson, on his part, wrote: "He [Wood] ... sent counterfeit money to Union prisoners of war for buying supplies from their guards." Johnson's source was the authoritative United States War Dept., War Records Office, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 2, Volume 6, Government Printing Office, 1899, p. 432. On their face, that correspondence between Union military and civil officials reproduced on pages 431-432 refers to counterfeit CONFEDERATE currency, not Union notes. This is a topic much more thoroughly discussed in the present author's "Federal Confederate Treasury" (1974), several portions of which have appeared in these pages and more will follow. Although Col. Wood certainly could have been culpable in sending fake U.S. notes South, Craughwell's assertion in this instance is not only unwarranted, but patently untrue on the basis of his sourcing!
12. Frank Moore (ed.), The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, Sixth Vol., New York: G.P. Putnam, 1864 ed. © 1863, "Diary of Events," April 12, 1863, p. 63.
13. "The Great Counterfeiting Cases: Three Circulators of Counterfeit $100 Compound Notes Committed for Trial," New York Times, July 28, 1866, p. 3.
14. Even though fake ten-spots are only a small part of this bust, this is a celebrated case and worth documenting here. Counterfeit $100 Compound Interest Treasury Notes bearing the date May 15, 1865, were discovered in late 1865. According to a Washington report, the first one was received at the Treasury Sept. 16th, see "Counterfeit Interest Note," New York Times, Sept. 16, 1865, p. 4. Officials cracked the ring 10 months later, when they discovered the plates, press of a "first-class counterfeiting establishment" on Staten Island, see "Important Arrest of A Counterfeiter," NYT July 19, 1866, p. 1. They arrested Charles Ulrich and an accomplice Kate Gross and also found bogus plates for a $50 Compound Interest Note. Secret Service Chief Col. William Wood offered extensive testimony; see "United States Commissioners' Office, before Commissioner Osborn; Counterfeiters set at Liberty," NYT, May 1, 1867, p. 2. According to another follow up article, Ulrich confessed to Secret Service officials and filled in details of his scheme, including paying $19,000 in hush money to police officials, see "To the Associated Press, Washington, Sunday April 14, An Alleged Counterfeiter's Revelations," NYT, April 15, 1867, p. 1. Ulrich was instrumental as an informant in the capture of legendary counterfeit mogul William "Long Bill" Brockway (about which, more later). For additional information on Ulrich, See Lynn Glaser, Counterfeiting in America, 1968, pp. 130 ff. See also Murray Teigh Bloom, Money of Their Own, 1982, pp. 128 ff.; and David R. Johnson, Illegal Tender: Counterfeiting and the Secret Service in Nineteenth Century America, 1995, pp. 137ff. The characters associated with this grand counterfeiting enterprise continued to ply their trade. Joshua "Jock" D. Miner, who bankrolled $950,000 worth of these fakes was arrested years later getting up bogus plates for $1,000 Rainbow notes, see "Arrest of Counterfeiters: Seizure of Plates, Presses, Scale, Type and Fibre Paper," NYT Oct. 27, 1871.
15. New York Times, July 28, 1866, op cit.
16. Stephen Mihm, A Nation of Counterfeiters, 2007, p. 345ff.
17. Statutes at Large, 39th Congress, Sess. I, Chapter 28, "An Act making additional Appropriations, and to supply the Deficiencies in Appropriations for sundry civil expenses of the Government ... and for other purposes, April, 7, 1866, p. 22.
18. Statutes at Large, 39th Congress, Sess. I, Chapt. 296, "An Act making Appropriations for sundry Civil Expenses of the Government for the Year ending June thirtieth, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, and for other Purposes," July 28, 1866, p. 310.
19. The New York Times reported Aug. 17, 1866, p. 3 on the problems with the new National Currency. A new counterfeit $5 had appeared on the Citizens' National Bank of Fulton, NY. The newspaper cautioned: "Examine all $5, as the plate can be altered to 1,000 banks by changing the name."
20. Note: there was NOT a specific Act of Congress passed to permit Naramore publishing his photos as implied in a recent auction catalog listing; see Heritage Auctions' FUN sale, 2008 January Orlando, Fla., Signature Currency Auction, lot 13234. The "Entered According to an Act of Congress" in the copyright statement refers to the laws affecting recording of copyright/design patents generally not to a specific blessing given to Naramore. According to research by Eric Newman put forth in a display at the Newman Money Museum, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. observed by the author in November 2006 in the company of BNR Editor Dave Kranz Naramore was granted this patent protection on July 19, 1866.
21. Heritage, FUN sale 2008, op cit; for additional information on this singular photographic counterfeit detector see Raphael Ellenbogen, "The Celebrated Naramore Bank Note Detector Cards," Paper Money, Jan/Feb 1997, pp. 15ff.
22. Newman Money Museum display, op cit.
23. Ellenbogen, p. 16.
24. op cit, p. 18
25. op cit, p. 16.
26. see "Supreme Court - Chambers - June 5. Before Judge Ingraham. A Gift Enterprise Operation Before the Supreme Court." New York Times, June 6, 1868. In the case of Robert R. James vs. Matthew Westbrook, one of the exhibits against the defendant was a [Naramore] detector being marketed by Westbrook. Westbrook (about whom, more later) warranted the item "to suit any one. With the aid of the above, money Dealers cannot be deceived."
27. "Local Intelligence: New Counterfeits," New York Times, Aug. 17, 1866.
28. "Law Intelligence: United States Commissioner's Court, before Commissioner Newton," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 10, 1866.
29. For additional information on Nettleship see David R. Johnson, Illegal Tender, Smithsonian Institution, 1995, pp. 75 ff.
30. ibid.
31. "Law Reports: Counterfeiters Captured; United States Commissioners' Office, before Commissioner Osborn," New York Times, Nov. 13, 1866, p. 2. Note: Stephen Mihm discusses Col. Wood's practice of turning low level counterfeit shovers and dealers into "Assistant Operatives" to turn them against felons higher up the food chain, see Mihm's excellent A Nation of Counterfeiters, Harvard University, 2007, pp. 354ff. Johnson also discusses Nettleship and other paid informants. According to him, "nearly half of the early recruits had criminal backgrounds," pp. 75 ff.
32. "Sentences of Counterfeiters. United States Circuit Court, Southern District of New York, before Judge Smalley," New York Times, Dec. 23, 1866, p. 3.

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