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Counterfeiting money is an old offense. It was done before the United

States became a government, but does not seem to have become so

widespread until the United States began making its own paper money

during the Civil War. Prior to that time the offenses had been dealt

with by states and municipalities, with such help as the general

government cared to give. The increase in the crime, however, caused

ition by Congress in 1860, when $10,000 was appropriated for its

suppression to be expended under the direction of the Secretary of the

Treasury. This sum was paid out in rewards to private detectives,

municipal officers and others instrumental in bringing to trial and

punishment those engaged in making bogus money.

With the turning out of greenbacks by the government an increase in

the appropriation and a more organized fight against counterfeiting

were necessary. In 1864 Congress appropriated $100,000 and placed upon

the solicitor of the treasury the responsibility and supervision of

keeping down counterfeiting. This really inaugurated a methodical

system of hunting and punishing counterfeiters. The solicitor of the

treasury gathered about him a corps of men experienced in criminal

investigations and set them to work. The plan worked so well that when

John Sherman was secretary of the treasury he gave his approval to the

organization of a separate bureau for suppressing the output of

spurious currency. Under foreign governments the handling of

counterfeiters is in control of a centralized police organization,

which looks after all kinds of criminal offenses against the general

governments. The one bureau has surveillance over criminals of every

class. The tendency is in that direction in this government. The

secret service bureau is now being used by a number of departments of

the government.

The operations of the secret service are confined by law to the

suppression of counterfeiting and the investigation of back pay and

bounty cases. This is all the law permits the officials of the service

to work on, but every day they are at work on other matters. That the

law may not be openly violated the secret service operators assigned

to do other work are practically taken off the secret service rolls

and the department employing them is required to pay their salaries

and expenses. Nearly all the departments now recognize the efficiency

of the service and call upon the bureau at any time for a man. The

Department of Justice has used a number of the operators in the last

few years. In the course of time this will become so general that this

government will probably build up a great criminal bureau, one that

will supply officers for investigation of any crime. The Postoffice

Department now has its own system of inspectors, who investigate

violations of postal laws, and the plan of pitting specialist against

specialist is regarded as perfect. This could be continued, though, if

all the criminal organizations of the government were centralized.

The United States is divided into thirty secret service districts,

each in charge of an operative who has under his direction as many

assistants as the criminal activity of the section demands. The force

is concentrated in one district if there are counterfeiting operations

in progress, and then sent to another district as required. A written

daily report, covering operations for twenty-four hours, is exacted

from each district operative and from each man under him. These daily

reports frequently contain many fascinating stories, many details of

criminal life and espionage that would make columns. The reports

received by the bureau in Washington are carefully filed away in the

offices of the Treasury Department. Accompanying the reports are the

photographs and measurements of every man arrested for counterfeiting.

The Bertillon system of measurements is used by the service, as well

as a plain indexed card system. The two are so complete that even

without the name of a man his name and record can be obtained if his

measurements are forwarded.

Hanging on the walls and in racks in the two rooms that are occupied

by the chief and his two assistants are the photographs of every known

counterfeiter in the country. Among these are the faces of William E.

Brockway, the veteran dean of counterfeiters; Emanuel Ninger, the most

expert penman the service ever knew, and Taylor and Bredell, who hold

the record as the cleverest counterfeiters in history next to

Brockway. There are hundreds of others who have at some time or other

gotten into the clutches of the service, many of them the most

desperate characters. Some of these have taken human life with the

same ease they would make a paper dollar or a silver coin.

The development of modern processes of photolithography, photogravure,

and etching has revolutionized the note counterfeiting industry. So

famous a counterfeiter as Brockway realized this. In the old days all

counterfeiting plates were hand engraved and it took from eight to

fifteen months to complete a set. Now this part of the work may be

done in a few hours.

Information as to the personnel and operations of the secret service

is carefully withheld from the public. The names of the heads of the

various districts and the operators are unknown and are seldom

published unless in case of the arrest of a counterfeiter and the the

facts get into the newspapers. The bureau is managed by John E.

Wilkie, chief. He has held the position since 1898, when he succeeded

Chief Hazen. Mr. Wilkie is a newspaper man having held responsible

positions on many large papers. He began his career as a reporter and

worked his way up to city editor of one of the big Chicago papers. He

has a great "nose" for criminal investigation, and his work is

regarded as brilliant.

All the United States notes are printed in sheets of four notes of one

denomination on each sheet. Each note is lettered in its respective

order, in the upper and lower corners diagonally opposite, A, B, C,

and D, and this is the system for numbering notes: All numbers, on

being divided by 4 and leaving 1 for a remainder, have the check

letter A; 2 remainder, B; 3 remainder, C; even numbers, or with no

remainder, D. Any United States note the number upon which can be

divided by 4 without showing the above result is a counterfeit, and

while this rule is not infallible in all instances it will be found of

service in the detection of counterfeits.

Compared with a dozen or so years ago, there is nothing like the

counterfeiting going on in this country. Shortly after the war the

country was practically flooded with it, but so perfect is the

machinery of the secret service and so successful have its officers

been in recent years in unearthing the big plants and their operators,

and placing the latter behind the bars, that counterfeiting has almost


The receipts of subsidiary counterfeit coins at the subtreasury at New

York have been in recent times inconsequential. Some time ago an

Italian silversmith, who was an expert coin counterfeiter, was

captured, and the destruction of his plant and his subsequent

conviction had a wholesome effect upon his fellow countrymen, some of

whom have come over to the United States for the express purpose of

counterfeiting its silver coins. Only five counterfeit issues of notes

made their appearance during the year in question, and of these three

were new and two were reissues of old counterfeits.

This shows how well the counterfeit situation, as it were, is kept in

check and under control by the government. By some it is supposed that

most of our counterfeiters come from abroad, but this is not strictly

accurate, though many of those who attempt to imitate our silver

dollar and the subsidiary coin issues hail from Italy and Russia.

In order to set up a first-class counterfeit shop for the turning out

of good paper counterfeits, there are so many indispensable requisites

on the part of the spurious money-makers that they get discouraged or

caught in most instances almost at the very outset of their would-be

easy money-making careers. All of the good engravers who are capable

of turning out good plates are more or less under the constant

supervision of the secret service officers, while the paper supply, or

its possible supply, is equally well watched.

Because gold and silver coins pass current out on the Pacific coast,

where notes do not yet circulate freely as in the east, California has

more counterfeiting cases than any other state in the Union, with

Pennsylvania, with its large foreign population in the mining regions,

a close second.

A moderately deceptive $5 silver certificate was made in Italy,

imported into this country by various gangs of Italians and passed

quite extensively in the eastern states, but the secret service

officers quickly got on to the source of issue, and made many arrests

and secured convictions. So closely did they hit the trail of a fairly

good counterfeit note issued in the west that they got the maker and

passer arrested and convicted and the plates captured so quickly that

it must have caused him acute pain. It was the same with a $10 note of

deceptive workmanship which appeared in New York. Only three of these

notes were circulated.

Of course there are plenty of counterfeit notes and coins in

circulation--if there were not the secret-service officers would have

an easy time of it--but the output has largely decreased as compared

with former years, and, unless all signs fail, it is likely to go

still lower, as the secret service officers become each year more

expert in detecting this class of crime and putting the criminals away

where they will serve the state the best. Gold certificates issued

below the denomination of $20, are numbered the same as treasury notes

and are check-lettered in their order upon each sheet.

The only denominations of the gold certificates which have been

counterfeited are the issues for $20 and $100, respectively, as the

gold certificates present a pretty tough counterfeiting proposition,

though most of the denominations of the various issues of the silver

certificates have been more or less extensively counterfeited, perhaps

the issues for $5 and $10, respectively, being the most favored at the

counterfeiter's hands, by reason of the ready circulation of these two


The main deterrents to counterfeiting nowadays are, first, lack of

good engravers who will take the risk; second, the difficulty in the

making and the assembling of first-class plates, and third, the

difficulty in the securing of suitable paper. As to the last, the

fiber paper now in use with the two silk threads running through the

note lengthwise presents a hard proposition for imitation, and lastly,

and an important provision, is the fact the public is now pretty well

educated on the question of counterfeits, and know how a spurious bill

both looks and feels. As for the bank tellers, they scent counterfeits

by instinct. Things have changed for the counterfeiter, too, and they

are not for the best from his point of view.

The secret service of the United States is without a question the best

in the world.