Spencer M. Clark, Cornerstone of the BEP
...Rumors abound regarding Spencer Clark, the Supervisor of the National Currency Bureau during the time of Fractional Currency.
The main story usually told has to do with the Five Cent, Third Issue Note bearing his
...Our friend Spencer M. Clark, as noted above, was the Supervisor of the National Currency Bureau during the time of Fractional Currency.He
was responsible for the introduction of many of the features and processes associated with the printing of not only Fractional Currency, but our currency today.
...Spencer M. Clark, Cornerstone of the BEP
(We are greatly indebted to Benny Bolin, who has given us consent to publish and post his
excellent article on Spencer Clark
on the fractionalnotes.com website.This article was originally published in SPMC's Paper Money.Added graphics are from the fractionalnotes.com archives and are not part of the original article.)
By BENNY BOLIN, SPMC 6795Spencer Morton Clark
was a little known gentleman who overcame great odds and formed one of the largest and most important printing agencies in the world.The Bureau of Engraving and Printing
(BEP), which is currently celebrating its 125th anniversary, was a direct result of Clark's persistence and dedication to the government.He was the first superintendent of the National Currency Bureau under President Abraham Lincoln.
In the process of forming the bureau, Clark
weathered many storms.His
reputation, morality and integrity were often publicly questioned.He
was investigated by three separate Congressional Committees based on reports of poor administration of his
bureaus and for other numerous charges that turned out to be false.In spite of these assaults on his
remained loyal to the government and strove to make the National Currency Bureau
the best it could be.Clark
was born on Monday, June 3, 1811, in Brattleboro, Vermont.He
was the second of nine children of Ezra and Laura Hunt Clark.In 1819, when Spencer Clark
was eight years old, his
family moved to Hartford, Connecticut.His
father was a merchant in the wholesale iron trade until his
death on January 10, 1870.One of Clark's younger brothers, Ezra Jr., became a U.S.Congressman and represented the Hartford district from 1855 to 1859.
Before the age of 18, Clark
first job as a clerk in the hardware store of James H. Welles.Around 1830, he entered into private business and became a partner in the firm of Gilbert, Clark and Company.
This company built and operated a mill in Simsbury, Connecticut for the reduction and separation of ore from the surrounding copper mines.On August 5, 1833, he
married Mariah J. Barnard of Hartford.They eventually had two children, Spencer Jr., born in 1834 and Harriet born in 1840.In 1834, Clark
family back to Brattleboro.Here he worked as a cashier in the Bank of Brattleboro until 1836 when he formed Clark and Company.
This company manufactured rulers and other mathematical instruments.Clark and Company
failed in 1842 and Clark
then moved his
family to New York City.On December 3, 1842, Clark
appeared before Commissioner J.W. Metcalf of the U.S. District Court for the southern district of New York and declared bankruptcy due to the failure of his
listed as debts a total of $12.191.75 and as assets only the clothes he
family owned. In New York, Clark worked as a clerk and bartender at the Carleton and Clarendon Hotels for two years.
In 1844, in partnership with Mr. E.W. Coleman, he
formed yet another company, Clark
and Coleman.They were general produce merchants dealing primarily in grain and flour.In 1855 this company also failed.It was the opinion of the other merchants and was widely reported in the papers of the day that this failure was the sole responsibility of Clark
.They pointed out the fact that Mr. Coleman paid off his
portion of the debts and reopened his
own successful company.Clark
, on the other hand, was reported to have offered his
creditors only seventy cents on the dollar and even then did not pay his
debts. He left New York and moved to Washington D.C. where he served in various positions for a short time.In early 1856 he became a clerk in the Bureau of Construction under the U.S. Treasury Department.In August 1856, Mr. A.H. Bowman, the engineer in charge of the bureau, made Clark his chief clerk.He served in this position until May 1860 when he was named Acting Engineer, replacing Mr. Bowman.Clark
was promoted to this position even though a large number of more qualified engineers were unemployed at the time.He also merely "professed" to being an engineer but had never actually been qualified as such, nor had he ever adopted it as a profession.Clark
himself stated that he
had never had any connection with public works until given this position.As acting engineer, Clark made a quick impression on the Secretary of the Treasury S.P. Chase.He
quickly came up with a number of unique innovations designed to ensure the security of the notes issued by the Treasury and to speed their production.Clark
suggested that the notes be imprinted with facsimile signatures of the required officers as well as a copy of the U.S. Treasury seal.In proposing that this work be done in the Treasury building he
formed the basic framework of the BEP
designed the machinery for the imprinting as well as the seal used (a variation of which is still used today on some securities).He
also designed and constructed the machines used to cut and separate the four-note sheets.
On July 10, 1862 Clark
was to be involved in the first of the three Congressional committees investigating him or his
bureau.The "Committee on Expenditures on Public Buildings" was convened to investigate the costs of the extensions of the Treasury building and the Capitol.They were also instructed to decide if the officers of the Bureau of Construction
were qualified to hold their positions.The committee found that contracts were honored that caused great "extravagance in the expenditure of public moneys," and that the work that was done was not of good quality.The committee found Clark guilty of no wrongdoing, as all of the contracts were signed before he
was in charge of the bureau, but they did find that substandard work was allowed under his
supervision.Because of this, they ruled that Clark
was not qualified for his
position and recommended his
removal.Nevertheless, no further action was taken and Clark
continued in his
On April 10, 1862, Clark
submitted a plan to Secretary Chase to take over the printing of the one and two-dollar United States notes.This was accepted on August 22, 1862, officially forming the BEP with Clark as its first superintendent.
Secretary Chase instructed Clark
to keep a perfect record of all steps in the process and to implement checks and guards necessary to maintain security.He
was instructed to keep a daily record of the amount of notes on hand at each step as well as a daily record of all costs incurred.This was an. area In which Clark proved himself to be less than attentive.Notes, sometimes large amounts, were unaccounted for and sometimes lost.Also, the required daily and weekly reports at times became monthly and some records were never even kept.However, Secretary Chase was so satisfied with Clark's
overall progress that in January 1863 he
assigned the processing of all notes to Clark's department.
Due to the widespread counterfeiting of the first issue of fractional currency, Clark
became involved in anti-counterfeiting innovations for the second issue.Clark
helped Dr. Stuart Gwynn develop a membrane paper that had a foreign fiber introduced into it.It was hoped that this "distinctive" paper would help deter counterfeiting.Clark
also added to the design a bronzed oval on the face and large bronzed denominational numerals on the back.
felt that his
currency bureau could do the job "for a comparatively small outlay, at a great savings of cost."This was of course strongly opposed by the bank note companies and the unions representing the people who would become unemployed.The private bank note companies did not want to lose the lucrative and profitable business of printing the bank notes.
Initially they attempted to "buy" Clark
off.It was reported that Clark's wife did not like living in Washington, D.C. and desired to move back to New York.The bank note companies proposed that they give Clark fifty-thousand dollars to abandon and stop the printing and engraving being done in the Treasury Department and leave Washington.It was felt that Clark
was the only person who would attempt to carry out the printing and that if he