Ninger and his wife, Adelaide, arrived in 1882 from Germany to live in Hoboken, New Jersey. He worked as a sign painter and then bought a farm in Westfield, New Jersey. He told his neighbors that he was receiving a pension from the Prussian army. On October 12, 1892 he moved to Flagtown, New Jersey.
Ninger would buy bond paper from Crane & Company, in Dalton, Massachusetts, cut it to the same size as the $50 and $100 United States Notes he was copying, then soak the paper in a dilute coffee solution. He would align the paper over a genuine banknote, place the two on a piece of glass, and trace the resulting image. He used a camel’s hair brush to put colors on the note, imitated the silk threads with red and blue inks, and suggested rather than duplicated the intricate geometric lathework. Notably, he omitted the line crediting the Bureau of Engraving and Printing from all of his bills, and some of them were also missing the counterfeiting warning.
He worked for weeks at a time on each note, and this was profitable because at the time one of those notes was extremely valuable (about $2000 or $4000 in today's dollars).
He was apprehended by the United States Secret Service in March 1896 when he paid a bartender with a $50 banknote, the note got wet, and the ink began to smudge. Ninger pleaded guilty, and was given a sentence of six years and a $1 fine. At some point after his release he forged a few British pound notes. He died on July 25, 1924, at 77 years old.
Ninger was somewhat romanticized during his time, as almost a "Robin Hood"-like character, whose crimes were deemed "victimless", both because only the extremely wealthy could afford the bills that he was forging, and also because with the proper art connections, one could stand to profit by receiving a Ninger work. Ninger notes are illegal to possess; it is estimated that there are 20-30 notes in the hands of collectors, out of an estimated 700 made by Ninger.
- "Ninger Had No Witnesses. The Alleged Counterfeiter's Case Will Go to the Federal Grand Jury.". New York Times. April 21, 1896. Retrieved 2008-10-21. "The examination of Emanuel Ninger, alias Joseph Gilbert, who is charged with being engaged for twenty years in counterfeiting United States notes of large denominations with pen and pencil, was begun before United States Commissioner Shields yesterday."
- Stevenson, Jed (October 21, 2008). "Coins". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
- Money of Their Own: The Great Counterfeiters. 1957. "I've written to nearly all of them, but no one seems to have heard of Emanuel and Adelaide Ninger of Flagtown, New Jersey, or of any of their four children. ... however he died in Reading, Pennsylvania at Richard Ningers farmhouse, Emanuel Ningers son. Ninger used to work in the top floor of the barn at the farm house on a marble table. The table currently resides with the new editor of this pages last editor."
- Murray Teigh Bloom. "The Money Maker". American Heritage (August/September 1984): pages 91–101.
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