Checking Back

This portrait of Secretary of the Treasury Samuel Dexter is from the collection of the Treasury Department. It was painted in 1893 by Charles Harold L. MacDonald of Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

At the start of the government shutdown I showed three checks bearing large portraits. To recognize the (temporary) end of the shutdown I will continue this topic by examining checks showing the portrait of Secretary of the Treasury Samuel Dexter.

Samuel L. Dexter served as the third Secretary of the Treasury having been appointed to that position by President John Adams in January 1801. It was a lame duck appointment but Dexter agreed to remain in the position until President Thomas Jefferson’s choice of Albert Gallatin was made in May 1801.

Dexter was a Boston lawyer who started in politics in the Massachusetts legislature. He was elected to Congress in 1793 and to the Senate in 1799 where he gave the Senate eulogy for President Washington. He was appointed Secretary of War by President Adams in June 1800. He served in that position until being appointed as Secretary of the Treasury. It would be a short-term appointment as Thomas Jefferson had won election in November 1800 and would take office in March 1801.

Dexter was an odd choice for checks. As noted in the previous entry on government checks, the portraits used were related to the department that issued the check. Dexter held cabinet positions for brief periods and nothing remarkable happened in either department under his watch. He was not well-known even while he was in office. The US Coast Guard had this to say upon the commissioning of a revenue cutter named for him:

“his temperament and intellectual endowment ill suited him for that minute diligence and attention to intricate details which the departments of War and Finance imposed on the incumbents of office.”

Someone in the Treasury Department in the late 19th century had some level of respect for him as he was chosen to represent that department on its own checks for more than 30 years.

This first check was printed for the State Department sometime in the 1880s. Although the cabinet department is not noted on the check, the signature line is for the Disbursing Clerk, Department of State. It does not show well in the scan but there is a light purple stamp in the lower left corner that reads: “WATER BOUNDARY UNITED STATES & CANADA”.

The second check was printed for the Comptroller of the Currency in the 1890s. The check was written for $1.00 to Clayton G. Sillenbeck of Rome, NY. Sillenbeck was a bookkeeper in Rome.

The check was for the third dividend issued during the liquidation of the Fort Stanwix National Bank in Rome. The Comptroller’s office was responsible for taking over the assets of failed banks and selling them off to pay depositors and creditors. The bank went into voluntary liquidation in 1896.

The third and fourth checks are identical and were written on the same day, March 22, 1902 They were written for four cents to Edward Day Barker and two cents to L. B. Huff. Barker was a Colorado Springs businessman and Huff was involved in coal operations in Pennsylvania.

The serial numbers on the two checks are 179 apart. Neither was cashed and both probably survived as souvenirs given the small amount they were written for. They were reunited over a hundred years later as I acquired both of them on Ebay from different sellers about four years apart.

The final check was written in 1912 from the Customs Office in Boston to Estabrook & Eaton for one cent. The memo line indicates it was for refunding excess deposits. Estabrook & Eaton were cigar importers and sellers in Boston and they undoubtedly had to pay import duties to the Customs Office on product brought into the United States.

This check was saved as a souvenir as it was in an old frame when I acquired it. The brown outline and tan coloring on the check are a result of damage from the kraft paper backing that was used in the frame. Kraft paper is acidic and long term exposure will damage anything near it.

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