Bogus Bills

Emanuel Ninger’s reputation as a counterfeiter is legendary. Known as “Jim the Penman” (named after a character in a play then running on Broadway), he drew, by hand, $50 and $100 Legal Tender Notes. Relying on his naked eye, he worked for weeks at a time on each note, using pen, pencil and brush with colored inks. Thus he gained a reputation as an extraordinary artist. In fact, his counterfeit notes circulated among the wealthy as works of art.

Prior to his capture, Ninger had been cranking out cash for two decades. Then on March 28, 1896, The New York Times reported that the Secret Service found $244.25 of “good and bad money” in Ninger’s home. Because of his clumsy, farmer-like hands, Secret Service agents did not believe Ninger to be the culprit they were hunting. He simply didn’t match the physical profile that forgers were supposed to fit. Even after Ninger confessed, they didn’t believe him.

Now, Ninger's story has reached mythic proportions. During the raid, three oil paintings were discovered. Experts estimate that it took Ninger as long to create one counterfeit bill as it did to paint one painting. After his arrest, Ninger's paintings sold for more than $5,000 each. In other words, he could have earned more from his artwork than he did for his forgery. According to legend, people were so impressed by Ninger’s artistic skill that when they found one of his bills, rather than report it to law enforcement they’d framed the bogus banknote.

The New York Times reports nothing about legitimate artwork from Ninger. The article simply describes his actions as “being engaged for 20 years in counterfeiting large denominations with pen and pencil.”

Ninger's reign as King Counterfeiter came to an end when he entered the Cortlandt Street saloon and bought a glass of Rhine wine with a $50 bill. Picking up the bill from the wet counter, the bartender noticed some of the ink on his fingers. The bartender called police, and Ninger was caught while boarding the Cortlandt Street Ferry. During the trial, Ninger's lawyer requested a dismissal—though he had no legal basis for such a plea. The judge refused the request. Ninger was convicted and served his time before disappearing into anonymity.

Here’s a case of a man with a rare talent that, if used properly, could have benefited society in significant ways. Instead, he employed his gifts illegitimately.

Similarly, you have unique talents. God has gifted you in ways unlike any other person on the planet. Perhaps you can sing. Maybe you can rebuild a carburetor. Or you might be the best nanny in the state. I don’t know what your gifts are, but I know you have special talent on loan from God. And He expects you to use your talents to bless others. In the words of Ellen G. White, “Those who truly love God will desire so to improve the talents that he has given them, that they may be a blessing to others. And by and by the gates of heaven will be thrown wide open to admit them, and from the lips of the King of Glory the benediction will fall upon their ear like richest music, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ Thus the redeemed will be welcomed to the mansions that Jesus is preparing for them.”*

God has given you talents to bless others. So share God’s love. Witness of His grace. Tell others about Jesus. And know that someday you will receive your reward—a mansion on a street of gold. Real gold.

*Ellen G. White, Southern Watchman, March 31, 1908, p. 5.

September 01, 2006 / Fresh Start