A production of extraordinary virtuosity, this is the notorious bank note counterfeiter Charles F. Ulrich's outstanding masterpiece, a c. 1900 prison-engraved view of Cincinnati, Ohio. The view looks eastward on Cincinnati from across the Ohio River, probably the highest point in Covington's Deveau Park. It presents a bustling river city, with lively steamboat traffic, multiple bridges, and dramatic setting on a curve of the impressive Ohio River. The engraving is the work of the career counterfeiter Charles Frederick Ulrich - whose amazing life story, summarized below, is well worth a read, as it ranges from charging with the Light Brigade, to catch-me-if-you-can escape antics, to global counterfeiting conspiracies, to polygamy.
Engraved in Prison by the 'King of Counterfeiters'
The engraver Charles Ulrich brought all of his engraving mastery, which otherwise was dedicated to forgery, to bear on this print - one of only two known legitimate works signed by the engraver - the other being a portrait of Ohio Governor William Allen - and certainly his life's masterwork. According to one article, this view was engraved during Ulrich's final prison sentence between 1887 and 1893. It was most certainly engraved in the final years of this sentence, between 1889 and 1893. According to Ulrich's obituary in the March 24, 1907 Evening Star
While Ulrich was in the Ohio penitentiary during his last term he made friends with the warden and the guards, was provided with engraving tools, and turned out several matchless pieces of work. One was a steel plate of Governor William Allen and the other a steel engraving of Cincinnati, said to be the largest steel engraving in the world. The plate was sent to New York, as there was no press in this part of the country large enough to print it on.
We have been unable to trace an example of the William Allen portrait.
The original Chesapeake and Ohio Bridge constructed in 1889, appears first and largest. This is followed by the famous Roebling Suspension Bridge (1866), a precursor to the more famous Brooklyn Bridge. The Newport Southbank Bridge, popularly known as the Purple People Bridge (1872), appears in the distance. The presence of the C and O Bridge, completed, suggests that this view could not have been engraved before 1889.
Publication History and Census
The view was engraved between 1889 and 1893 in the Ohio State Penitentiary by Charles Ulrich. It was not printed until after Ulrich's release in 1900 by Albert O. Kraemer. Although both Ulrich and Kraemer were based in Cincinnati, the view was reportedly printed in New York as the width of the enormous steel plate was too large for any local presses. While there were larger views at the time, most were compiled from multiple plates, or engraved on copper, so this may indeed have set the record as a single large steel plate. This view is exceedingly rare. We are aware of a single example at the Library of Congress in a vastly inferior condition. No other known examples.
Charles Frederick Ulrich (June 25, 1835 - March 18, 1907), also known as Adam Miller and James Winell / Wynell, was a Prussian-American engraver and artist generally known as 'The World's Greatest Counterfeiter'. Ulrich was born in Westphalia, Germany where his father was a jeweler. He was apprenticed as an engraver 14 and studied the art for five years. By 1853, when he was 19 and emigrated to London, Ulrich was already a prodigy engraver. While some report that Ulrich fled Germany to avoid the draft, there is other evidence suggesting he was already counterfeiting currency in Berlin and fled to escape Prussian authorities. In England, he was suspected of producing Bank of England notes and fled again, this time to New York. There, penniless, he was successfully solicited by a private British draft agent and served 18 months in the Crimean War, where he had the ill fortune to be assigned as a draftsman to the 'Light Brigade' and was one of the few to survive Lord Ralgan's disastrous charge at the Battle of Balaclava. He was not, however, unwounded and laid 36 hours in the mud of Balaklava with his skull crushed by a Russian musket. On recovery in London, he was paid for his service and in late 1853, used the funds to once again migrate to New York. For about 2 years he worked in New York as a successful and legitimate engraver. It was around 1865 that he turned his engraving talents fully to currency counterfeiting. His fake banknotes caught the attention of the Secret Service who in 1858, caught him in the act of engraving the vignette on a 5-dollar note. What followed was a 'catch-me-if-you-can' extravaganza involving multiple captures and escapes including one instance where he carved a working prison key from sight using a stolen shoemaker's awl and a tin chamber pot. He was eventually apprehended in Canada by the Mounted Police and extradited to New York. There, Ulrich was convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to 5 years in Sing Sing, of which he served 3, receiving an 1861 pardon by Governor Morgan. He was almost immediately back at counterfeiting, this time forging 50,000 USD worth Bank of England notes which he took to Europe, where they passed all tests and were accepted as authentic. He apparently also used this wealth to acquire a noble title. At this time he may have been arrested in Germany, but escaped and returned to the United States. Ulrich moved to Columbus, where he had a short-lived engraving shop and befriend a local boy, Bill Burns. He then relocated to Cincinnati in 1867, but was arrested in 1868 and convicted of forging a 500 USD treasury note. In June of 1876, after serving 8 of his 12-year sentence (again pardoned), he returned to Ohio, where around 1875, he attempted to establish a legitimate lithography business. His lithography company reportedly failed shortly thereafter, prompting Ulrich to relocate to Philadelphia, where he partnered with the brilliant counterfeiters Henry C. Cole (who distributed the currency) and Jacob Ott (lithographer who printed the currency). There this gang is reported to have passed some 350,000 USD in counterfeit currency. Already a wealthy man, Ulrich returned to Cincinnati, where he partnered with several local businessmen in a grand counterfeit plot to make perfect 10 USD bills and flood the country with them - the idea being that smaller denomination note would pass unquestioned. The gang was captured by the secret service before they could complete their scheme. In 1879, Ulrich turned state's evidence and was released on his own reconnaissance. He then set out to live a quiet life in Trenton, New Jersey, but his legendary success as a counterfeit engraver lead numerous criminal gangs to seek him out, most prominent among these being the Charles Brockway Gang. This begins yet another bizarre twist. The local boy he befriended in Columbus back in the 1860s, Bill Burns, had become a crack detective with the secret service responsible for tracking down and arresting Ulrich - who he called 'Uncle Charley'. Burns followed Ulrich from Cincinnati to Scotch Plains, New Jersey, where Ulrich he arrested Ulrich in November of 1887. Ulrich was in possession of a newly engraved steel plate for a 100 USD treasury note. Ulrich was convictd and served at least 5 years. While prison, Ulrich was given an office and engraving tools. There he completed his two most notable legitimate works, a steel plate of Governor William Allen, and a large view of Cincinnati. The view, believed at the time to be the largest steel plate in the world, was sent to New York for printing, as no midwestern press could accommodate it. Around 1893, Ulrich again returned to Cincinnati, where he lived with his wife and children on Loth Street and from at least 1900 operated a small engraving business on Third Street. Between 1894 and 1895 he turned spy for the federal government and helped to capture the notorious Brockway Gang of counterfeiters. Ulrich closed the engraving shop when his health began to fail. He lived for 15 years after leaving prison before dying of heart failure in Cincinnati. As a side note, Ulrich was also a serial polygamist with multiple wives. He should not be confused with Charles F. Ulrich (October 18, 1858 - May 15, 1908), the American painter and sculptor.
Albert O. Kraemer (January 4, 1865 - February 4, 1926) was a Cincinnati-based German-American printer active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Kraemer was born in Lancaster, Ohio. From about 1884, he was initially in business with his brother Gustavus Adolphus Kraemer (1860 - 1922), publishing under the imprint of A. 0. and G. A. Kraemer from 35 east 3rd Street, Cincinnati. His first major work was the 1898 publication of Picturesque Cincinnati. In 1902 he arranged the New York printing of a stunning large-format view of Cincinnati engraved in prison by the notorious counterfeiter Charles F. Ulrich. From 1902 he was the head of the 111 East 3rd Street based Kraemer Art Company, which issued postcards and views printed in Cincinnati, but retouched and finished in Germany.
Very good. Strong dark impression.
Library of Congress, 2003691125. Reps, John, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America (University of Missouri, Columbia, 1984), #3070.