Nearly 150 years ago, Congress passed a law that forbade the portrayal of any living person on federal coins or currency. The reason? Because the bureaucratic clown shown above decided to put his own image on United States currency.
Spencer M. Clark served under Abraham Lincoln as the first Superintendent of the National Currency Bureau, today known as the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. In 1864, Congress authorized the issuance of a series of fractional currency notes in denominations of 3, 5, 10, 15, 25 and 50 cents.
Fractional currency was issued by the US government during and after the War Between the States due to the hoarding and shortage of gold, silver and copper coins. Clark’s office had responsibility for production of the notes.
There are a couple of different versions of how Clark’s likeness ended up on the 5-cent bill.