- The art of the Con
Emanuel Ninger was a loner who found refuge from
the maddening throng in northern New Jersey, just before the turn of the 20th
century. . He was a German immigrant that had come from the fatherland in 1882
along with his wife Adele and was as adept as anyone that ever lived was in
copying the features of various Americans pictured on its currency. Furthermore,
he arrived in this country with all of $2000 that belonged to his wife and no
relatives or anyone else to fall back o in this country.
In reality, he was the latest of
a long line of German forgers who had dominated that profession in the United
during the last half of the 19th century. They all had the necessary
skills in chemistry along with a thorough concept of utilizing the correct paper.
Ninger utilized the very best bond made by Crane and Company, the very same
people that supplied the United States Treasury Department the paper that they
used to print money. He had arrived at the end of 1882 and by early spring of
the following year he was already producing superbly designed American bills.
However, his first effort was quickly spotted by a local bank when the party
he had given it too deposited it.
He knew that he had arrived when on
April 5, 1891; the following article appeared in the New York Times:
“In a saloon near the corner of Broadway and Wall Street,
a counterfeit fifty-dollar bill enclosed in a frame hangs upon the wall. It
is a greenback, and nine persons out of ten would take it for the genuine article.
Inspection under a magnifying glass shows it was made with a pen and ink, and
the one who made it must have been an expert of rare ability. There are others
of these bills in existence. One is at the Treasury Department in the curio
room of the Secret Service, and one is the property of a gentlemen in Cincinnati…A
great deal of hunting has been done for the maker of these bills but with no
success…The conclusion has been reached that this counterfeiting is simply a
fad, or perhaps a mania, with the person who does it and is not designed as
a financially profitable employment.”
However, in terms of knowing his trade,
Ninger was a forger par excellance who took great pride in his trade.
He felt honor bound never to place the words “act of March 3, 1863,” and the
putative origin of the bill, “Engraved and printed at the Bureau of Engraving
and Printing,” anywhere on his work.
There for Ningerâ€™s bill were missing two entire phrases that should have made
them extremely easy to spot. However, that did not turn out to be the case.
In spite of that fact, his bills spread like hotcakes and they were literally
so well forged that if you were not aware of the missing phrases you could not
have found a difference between them and the real thing.
However, after his first bad experience with the
local bank he had learned never to pass his phony paper in the town where he
lived because it would be too easy to trace back to him. He would spend one
or two days a month in New York City buying a series of inexpensive items and
then paying for them with a larger bill, either a $20 or a $50. He tried to
keep himself as innocuous as possible during these forays into the big city,
which almost always occurred on the last Friday of every month. Moreover, Ninger
was always careful never to pass a note twice in the same shop.
Perhaps, his theory relative to striking on the
last Friday of the month was that this was everybodyâ€™s payday and his small
expenditures would be lost in the crowd. He would stay in town Friday night
and return to his home in New Jersey the following day. During the rest of the
month, he would work in a den he had constructed in his home. In this room,
he had brought in all of the elements necessary to create money. He copied the
real money by drawing around the outline of a legitimate bill ensconced in between
two pieces of glass.
However, even before he started the process he would
take his expensive bond paper and cut it into the size of the notes he was about
to design. He would then soak the paper in a weak coffee solution, which would
make the paper look as though it had been used. He then had to draw into his
counterfeit something resembling the colored silk threads that permeated the
real money. This whole process was extremely time consuming as it was all accomplished
by hand. Thus, the amount of money that he could turn out during any given month
was extremely limited. Probably $200 was a large amount during that period because
in probability his production was limited to six or seven notes per month. However,
that much money went along way in the years before the turn of the century.
After dodging the bullet for fourteen years, Ningerâ€™s
life of crime came to a sudden end at a bar one day; W. L. Duesingâ€™s saloon
where he had just passed one of his bills by laying it on the bar. They inferior
ink that he used created a colored trail of ink on the barâ€™s top. The bartender
knowing he had been swindled immediately called his assistant who while running
down the street chasing after Ninger picked up a local cop along the way. They
followed Ninger to the ferry house and with the aid of local police officer,
Ninger was ultimately subdued and thrown into jail. He used a fictious name
when questioned and tried every trick of the trade while being questioned by
a trained expert of the Secret Service.
Finally, he gave in and told the truth. At first,
no one believed that he could have done the magnificent work that he had admitted
to but eventually, everyone accepted that he was indeed the author of a substantial
amount of counterfeit paper money.
Ninger was tried in the Supreme Court of Manhattan
in 1896 before Judge Addison Brown. He pled guilty, his attorney asked for clemency
because his eyesight had literally failed and that it was a victimless crime.
Apparently, the judge was swayed to some degree by the argument and instead
of the almost mandatory fifteen years he could have gotten, Ninger only spent
a tad over four years under incarceration when a parole board influenced by
pubic demand ordered him freed. For some strange reason the public had fallen
in love with Ninger and taken up his cause. Ninger was different from the others
they said, he wasnâ€™t part of the gangs that roamed the streets giving out inferior
bills. When the chips were down it all did not matter, he had been caught just
as were most of his predecessors, but they had been in gangs where their partners
that had usually ratted them out when they got caught.
The public loved Ninger whose work had become camp
and his counterfeits often brought a price higher than the currency he had copied. “…He
lived to see serious purchasers of his works of art pay considerable premiums
for his notes. Collectors of old paper currency - a growing hobby today in the
United States - would still be doing so today if the law didnâ€™t prevent us from
keeping counterfeit bills. (This was the Treasury Act of March 4, 1909) Today Ningerâ€™s photo and some of his notes occupy a place of honor on
the north wall of the special files room of the U.S. Secret Service offices
in the Treasury Building in Washington. The framed exhibit has copies of his
twenty, fifty, and one-hundred-dollar bills, excellent hand-drawn specimens…”
However, from the day Ninger was released from jail, no one every saw
he or his family again. He had literally disappeared from the face of the earth.
Some of the people in Flagtown where he last lived say that he was called by
the U.S. Printing Office (Bureau of Engraving) in Washington and strongly urged
to work for them, but never to tell a soul about it. Maybe that is what happened.
For all we know, he may be these still.