Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: Lincoln Protected Currency Issues

Marshal Ward Lamon was in President Lincoln’s office in the White House one day, and casually asked the President if he knew how the currency of the country was made. Greenbacks were then under full headway of circulation, these bits of paper being the representatives of United State money.

“Our currency,” was the President’s answer, “is made, as the lawyers would put it, in their legal way, in the following manner, to-wit: The official engraver strikes off the sheets, passes them over to the Register of the Currency, who, after placing his earmarks upon them, signs the same; the Register turns them over to old Father Spinner, who proceeds to embellish them with his wonderful signature at the bottom; Father Spinner sends them to Secretary of the Treasury Chase, and he, as a final act in the matter, issues them to the public as money—and may the good Lord help any fellow that doesn’t take all he can honestly get of them!”

Taking from his pocket a $5 greenback, with a twinkle in his eye, the President then said: “Look at Spinner’s signature! Was there ever anything like it on earth? Yet it is unmistakable; no one will ever be able to counterfeit it!”

Lamon then goes on to say:

“‘But,’ I said, ‘you certainly don’t suppose that Spinner actually wrote his name on that bill, do you?’

“‘Certainly, I do; why not?’ queried Mr. Lincoln.

“I then asked, ‘How much of this currency have we afloat?’

“He remained thoughtful for a moment, and then stated the amount.

“I continued: ‘How many times do you think a man can write a signature like Spinner’s in the course of twenty-four hours?’

“The beam of hilarity left the countenance of the President at once. He put the greenback into his vest pocket, and walked the floor; after awhile he stopped, heaved a long breath and said: ‘This thing frightens me!’ He then rang for a messenger and told him to ask the Secretary of the Treasury to please come over to see him.

“Mr. Chase soon put in an appearance; President Lincoln stated the cause of his alarm, and asked Mr. Chase to explain in detail the operations, methods, system of checks, etc., in his office, and a lengthy discussion followed, President Lincoln contending there were not sufficient safeguards afforded in any degree in the money-making department, and Secretary Chase insisting that every protection was afforded he could devise.”

Afterward the President called the attention of Congress to this important question, and devices were adopted whereby a check was put upon the issue of greenbacks that no spurious ones ever came out of the Treasury Department, at least. Counterfeiters were busy, though, but this was not the fault of the Treasury.