Until after the Civil War, most of the paper money in circulation in the US was printed by private banks, not the federal government, and counterfeiting was rampant. One particularly common strategy was to attempt to exchange counterfeit notes drawn on a bank in one city in another, where they would be less likely to be recognized. In the spring of 1816, Stephen Sturdevant, a New York City grocer and skilled engraver, produced some $20,000 worth of especially convincing $100 notes purporting to be from the Mechanics’ Bank. Despite the bank’s use of the steel-dye process of Murray, Fairman, and Co., which was supposed to be impossible to fake, the counterfeits made it as far away as London and he was only caught after trying to exchange the notes at a bank that happened to have strong associations with Philadelphia.


At 6:30 pm on November 10, 1833, Edward Sprague, the porter of the Mechanics’ bank locked up the bank and went home. The next morning, he arrived to find the door unlocked and four boxes of specie (gold and silver) worth $3,995 missing from the banking room, though the vault itself was undisturbed. The directors held a special meeting and decided to offer a $500 reward for any information and ordered an investigation. Not only did a watchman say that he had thought the door loose the previous weekend, but an investigation found the entire building “in a decayed state and many parts quite insecure.” They ordered repairs, including an iron door and lamp on the sidewalk, hired an extra watchman, and increased the reward to $1000. While there were no further burglaries, the culprit was never found.


In the spring of 1820, a Mr. Crabb, one of the bank’s two tellers, disappeared and it was discovered that his accounts were $10,000 short. By the end of May, the directors had traced him to St. John, New Brunswick, where he confessed that he had been embezzling money from the bank for over five years. Since he had already spent all the money, they decided that bringing legal action against him in Canada was too expensive to be worth the trouble.


On February 14, 1825, a Third Street broker named Mr. Benson was robbed in his office and “struck several blows with a large bludgeon.” As the unfortunate broker lay unconscious, the robber put the money in his hat for safekeeping. Fortunately, Lemuel Lamb, the president of the Mechanics’ Bank, happened to stop by. Although he was hit once or twice and “threatened with a dirk,” he saved the money by kicking aside the hat and the robber ran off fearing that more people would come in before he could recover it.