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A Ninger bill. This bill was seized in 1896.

Emanuel Ninger (1845 – 1924), known as "Jim the Penman", was a counterfeiter in the late 1880s.[1]



Ninger and his wife, Adelaide, arrived in 1882 from Germany to Hoboken, New Jersey. He worked as a sign painter and then bought a farm in Westfield, New Jersey. He told his neighbors that he was receiving a pension from the Prussian army.[2] On October 12, 1892 he moved to Flagtown, New Jersey.[3]


Ninger would buy bond paper from Crane & Company, in Dalton, Massachusetts, cut it to the same size as the $50 and $100 United States Notes he was copying, then soak the paper in a dilute coffee solution. He would place the paper on a genuine banknote and trace the resulting image.[2]

He worked for weeks at a time on each note, and this was profitable because at the time one of those notes was extremely valuable (about $2000 or $4000 in today's dollars).

He was apprehended by the United States Secret Service in 1896, after a banknote ended up in a small puddle at a bar. A none-too-amused bartender realized that the ink was staining and the note was not genuine. Ninger served six months, and was forced to pay a restitution of $1; (the rumor that the $1 was one of his own works is more than likely an urban legend). He disappeared and probably did not make more works, though the art community was holding out, hoping for more to be discovered. None ever were.

Ninger was somewhat romanticized during his time, as almost a "Robin Hood"-like character, whose crimes were deemed "victimless", both because only the extremely wealthy could afford the bills that he was forging, and also because with the proper art connections, one could stand to profit by receiving a Ninger work.


  1. ^ "Ninger Had No Witnesses. The Alleged Counterfeiter's Case Will Go to the Federal Grand Jury.". New York Times. April 21, 1896, Wednesday. Retrieved 2008-10-21. "The examination of Emanuel Ninger, alias Joseph Gilbert, who is charged with being engaged for twenty years in counterfeiting United States notes of large denominations with pen and pencil, was begun before United States Commissioner Shields yesterday."  
  2. ^ a b "Coins". New York Times. October 21, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-21.  
  3. ^ Money of Their Own: The Great Counterfeiters. 1957. "I've written to nearly all of them, but no one seems to have heard of Emanuel and Adelaide Ninger of Flagtown, New Jersey, or of any of their four children. ..."  

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