DELMARVA ALMANAC

Snow Hill Counterfeiter Tales

by Dana Kester-McCabe

This is a story we are updating which began with tales of some interesting historical characters who have been associated with Snow Hill, the county seat of Worcester County.

These included the not so well known story from the late 19th century of a couple of young men from prominent local families who became accomplished counterfeiters. Their tale is vaguely reminiscent of the movie "Catch Me If You Can" which is based on a similar true story from the 1960's.

One local history book reported the story but could not record the perpetrators' names or even any documentation of their trial. The authors surmised that this was unavailable probably because embarrassed families did their best to hush things up. But they said this story was commonly shared around Snow Hill up to the middle of the 20th century.

Since this story was first produced I have found additional references and now I can tell this story a little more fully. Baldwin S. Bredell and Arthur Taylor, master engravers, were arrested along with other conspirators April 20, 1899, as part of a sophisticated conspiracy involving a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, cigar maker, corrupt federal officials and lawyers including a former Philadelphia District Attorney. They were convicted of producing and distributing silver certificates and revenue stamps. The case caused a national scandal including criminal attempts to influence the jury and even a covert campaign to secure a pardon from President McKinley for the convicted lawyers.

It seems these Bredell and Taylor who had ties to Snow Hill were criminal prodigies who produced fake twenty dollar bills and $100 silver certificates. They had a legitimate engraving business in Philadelphia, and had developed their own process of photoengraving copper plates making exact duplicates of currency and other official government stamps. At the time this process was being used mostly to produce fine art prints but it had only been around for a few decades.

Taylor was the chemist and Bredell was the artist who refined the details of the plates. Their work was so realistic that some of their silver certificates somehow were mixed in with a delivery from the Treasury Department to the Bank Of North America. The Treasury Secretary was forced to recall $26,000,000 in bills. They got back all but $6,000,000.

One account says that after getting away with this for a while they were caught due to undercover detectives hired to work in the Snow Hill post office. Another has agents in Philadelphia trailing Arthur's brother who used the bogus money to place bets at the race track. The magazine Boy's Life ran a somewhat sensationalized story in 1949 that describes a Treasury Agent named Billie Burns who used surveillance at printer supply manufacturers to track the criminals.

Once caught, the pair claimed that they had produced 100 of the silver certificates though the Secret Service only recovered 48. However, this was the just the tip of the iceberg. They had also been helping a cigar maker avoid paying taxes by producing phony revenue stamps. Taylor and Bredell plead guilty and quickly agreed to cooperate with the authorities turning in their accomplices. In the course of that investigation the government seized nine tons of paper similar to that used by the Treasury and enough of the fake stamps for 400,000,000 cigars.

The public was shocked by extent of the fraud and the youthful appearance of Taylor and Bredell at their trial. After their conviction they were sentenced to Myomensing Federal prison where they brazenly had parts and chemical supplies smuggled in to print more mad money. They figured out how to remove the ink from $1 bills so they could use the governments own paper making almost fool proof fakes. This endeavor was all part of their scheme to get the government to let them out early as a reward for further cooperation.

Their plan worked. When the fake money was found to still be in circulation an undercover operative was planted in a nearby cell in order to catch them. Taylor and Breddell were arrested again on May 7, 1900. They pretended to confess that their printing plates were hidden in Snow Hill, Maryland. Relatives or friends had actually smuggled these out of prison and planted them there. But, their second trial, in which their attorney was also charged as an accomplice, resulted in a hung jury with no additional conviction.

A short while ago I received an email from the great-great-granddaughter of Baldwin S. Bredell, who had read the first version of this story. Her note relayed the family lore that he was known to have handfuls of twenty dollar bills hidden in books in his basement. She said that he was a "slender fair haired man" who was such a talented artist that one patron fainted upon seeing their painted portrait because it was so realistic. She confirmed the part of the legend that suggested that Bredell was eventually granted parole on the condition that he put his talents to work for the U.S. Mint. And, she said that after completing his parole he abruptly disappeared abandoning his wife and daughter.

As far as I can find, Baldwin Bredell and Arthur Taylor stayed out of trouble for the rest of their lives. But their youth and their proclivities for taking risks suggest that there are probably many more stories that could be told about them. Maybe someone else in our audience can tell us…

References:


Master Counterfeiter
by Alan Hind - Boys' Life - Septemebr 1949

The Bredell-Taylor Counterfeiting Case
Public Ledger Almanacs For 1870-73

Arrests Reveal Gigantic Frauds
The Dail Mail and Empire - April 24, 1899

Puzzled The Sharps - Story of the cleverest of all the counterfeiters
Published in the Auburn Citizen - New York

Dickerman's United States Treasury Counterfeit Detector and Bankers & Merchant's Journal
Detective: William J. Burns and the Detective Profession, 1880-1930
Public Ledger Almanacs For 1870-73

Maryland’s Eastern Shore - A Journey in Time and Place
by John R. Wennersten - Tidewater Press - Centreville, Maryland 1992

Murder on Maryland's Eastern Shore - Race, Politics and the case of Orphan Jones
by Joseph E. Moore
History Press - Charleston, South Carolina - 2006

Worcester County - Maryland's Arcadia
Worcester County Historical Society - Dr. Reginald V. Truitt and Dr. Millard G. Les Callette 1977

Visit Snow Hill
http://www.snowhillmd.com