Today the Series 1901 $10 Specimen Note harkens back to 1812 to tell the story of one man’s proposal to solve the counterfeit notes problem.
The American and Commercial Daily Advertiser in Baltimore printed the following “letter” on January 22, 1812:
From the Pittsburg Mercury.
The public lose much by counterfeit notes and there is no way of securing them against such losses so long as copper-plate prints are used. What one artist has done another of equal skill may imitate, or the original artist may for fraudulent purposes copy. I offer then a method that I have invented, by which plates can be produced that can neither be imitated by the artist who produced them, nor by any other. This method is by using glass plates.
In common notes there is, besides the words and characters that go to compose the note, some emblematical representations, such as a coat of arms, a building, a landscape, etc. all evidently wrought by hand. Now in the glass plate notes, let there be the usual words etc. but instead of the emblematical parts let there be a variegated representation which shall be the work of chance. Let the etching be performed by the chemical action of a mordant. The engraver then by which imitations can be so dexterously executed will be rendered in this case quite useless.
A glass plate will give fifteen or twenty thousand impressions good proof, while the copper plate will be worn out with four thousand. Copper can be engraved in a hundred different ways, while glass can be only engraved in two ways—with flourick acid and with a wheel.
The variegated marbling produced on glass by a chemical agent can never be imitated by anything else—even the same person cannot produce two similar plates.
Can the imitator, baffled on glass, resort to copper and apply the engraver? Can he (suppose him to imitate the print exactly) make a complete contrefaction? No—the glass differing in its nature from copper, and the manner of operating upon them being different, those differences must produce very different effects—but still, could they be the same, the impressions would have a different gloss and an appearance in every way different, which gives the great DESIDERATUM—a method of producing prints that cannot be imitated.
I therefore declare to all the Banking Companies in the United States, that if they will adopt my method, the public will be no more defrauded with counterfeit notes, and their notes shall on account of that security obtain a currency and a credit which they cannot otherwise acquire.
J. J. Boudier.
Artist and Manufacturer at Pittsburg.
Having examined a glass plate executed by Mr. Boudier, and an impression taken from it—I pronounce, without hesitation, that bank notes may be made by that method which cannot possibly be counterfeited. It presents a discovery which will perhaps be reckoned among the most valuable improvements of modern chemistry. It will probably be recollected that Mr. Boudier offered about four years ago, to engrave glass plates for the United States bank, and that they, with the illiberality which characterized their institution refused to accept the offer, telling him that they were satisfied with their own notes, and did not care whether they were counterfeited or not—their clerks could distinguish the genuine ones from the false—the losses, therefore, that would occur would fall on the public—and the losses of the public promoted the gains of the banks. It was acknowledged that Mr. Boudier’s plan would answer the purpose it was intended for, but that had become of no importance to them however important it might be to the rest of the community.
Disheartened and disgusted at this narrow and ungenerous policy, he put up his plate, and has said not a word more about it until now that he believes himself among a people directed by better views—where associations in pursuing their own interests will be disposed also to consult those of the community.
As an artist Mr. Boudier possesses very considerable merit. I have now in my office an unfinished plate engrave by him (on copper—imperial folio size) with aquatint and etching, which the public have been deprived of by the impolitic parsimony of a few individuals.
In recommending Mr. Boudier (who was until yesterday totally unknown to me) I have in view the interest of the community—but I have more—I have a sincere desire to procure for a stranger—a man of taste and talents, that patronage which he deserves.
There is another thing which it might be well to observe; Mr. Boudier will execute the glass plates upon such terms as to render his method the cheapest as well as the best. In all improvements economy ought to be one consideration.
Who was J. J. Boudier?
One source stated he was a Frenchmen, trained in Paris, lived in Haiti but fled to America to escape the terror of former slave Toussaint L’Ouverture and his followers.
Initially, Boudier worked in Baltimore in the early 1790s and advertised that he could teach “Lessons on Architectural Drawing” and oversee construction.
In 1796-97, Boudier worked as an engraver and physiognotrace artist in Philadelphia.
After Pittsburgh, Boudier moved on to New York City.
At one time, Boudier owned a “White Lead Manufactory” that made “excellent” lead paints.
In summary, Mr. Boudier was a prolific artist in the late 18th and early 19th century, but searches did not find where any banks or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing took advance of his glass plate offer.
The Series 1901 $10 Specimen Note shows against an 1890 view of men moving sheets of currency to drying racks at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.