Emanuel Nenger arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey from Germany sometime around 1876. He got work as a sign painter and eventually bought a farm in Westfield, New Jersey. Nenger’s true profession, however, was counterfeiter.
Even though government officials didn’t yet know his identity, they first became aware that a counterfeiter was producing counterfeit money in 1878. They gave the forger the name “Jim the Penmen.” Nenger began by producing counterfeit $10 bills. From there he slowly progressed up the scale to produce $20 bills, $50 bills, and $100 bills. The U.S. Treasury department first identified one of his $100 bills in November, 1893.
Nenger worked for weeks on each bill. He bought his paper from Crane and Company in Dalton, Massachusetts. He cut the paper to the same size as a bill and soaked it in diluted coffee solution. Then he placed the paper over an authentic bill and traced the authentic bill’s image. Lastly, he added in all the correct coloring and other details by using a camel’s hair brush.
As word of the unknown counterfeiter’s work spread, he became akin to a Robin Hood figure. Commoners offered no public outcry against him because in their eyes he was only hurting rich people. This was, after all, the late 1800s, a time when only rich people had regular access to large monetary bills.
This was also the reason why Nenger’s bills didn’t have to be painstakingly perfect to pass for the real thing. Since such a low percentage of people knew what a large-amount bill was supposed to look like, he could pass his fake money off without any problems. He even made a point of not including the line “Bureau of Engraving and Printing” on each of his bills. Later, when he was caught and asked why he left out this line, he responded in his broken English, “Because they didn’t make them.”
Nenger’s downfall came in March of 1896 when he passed a large bill at a local business. When the note got wet the ink began to smudge. The bill was reported to the local police and a search warrant was obtained to search Nenger’s home. There in the attic his workshop for his crime was discovered. On May 29, 1896, Nenger was sentenced to six years in the Erie County Penitentiary. He served his time, was released, and died in 1924 at the age of 77.
Now let me tell you the real tragedy of Emanuel Nenger’s life. During that search of his attic police also found three portraits that he had painted. These portraits were eventually sold at auction for a total of $16,000, which was a ton of money back then. And here’s the tragic part: it took Nenger almost as long to paint one of his counterfeit bills as it did for him to paint one of those portraits! To say the man’s talent was misused would be a landmark understatement.
Sadly, like Emanuel Nenger, many talented people today do not use their talents in service to Jesus Christ. This holds true even in regards to Christians. So many of our churches are just limping along, waiting forevermore for Christians in whom God has placed talents and spiritual gifts to use those in fruitful service. Instead, however, these Christians choose to either use their talents and gifts exclusively in service to worldly matters or to let them lie dormant altogether.
And so, Christian, I’ll close this post by asking you two questions. Question #1: What are you talented and gifted to do? And question #2: Are you using those talents and gifts in the Lord’s service? If you aren’t then the loss is truly yours. Not only are you missing out on all the personal fulfillment that comes from knowing that you are making a difference for Christ, you are also missing out on all the eternal rewards that you could be earning each and every day.