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Hunting Counterfeiters in Post-Civil War America: The Photographic Rogues Gallery of Secret Service Agent William Kennoch

(SECRET SERVICE). (English) The photographic archive, papers, and relics of William Kennoch, Secret Service Agent

Various places, 1870s and 1880s

More than 1000 photographs, more than 125 letters, extensive diaries and memoranda books, plus relics, manuscripts, and ephemera as detailed below. Very good condition overall. The photographs are preserved in two half morocco cases.

Kennoch, who was born in Edinburgh in 1841, joined the Secret Service early in 1870 after a career as a cigar smuggler. He soon became an expert in counterfeiting cases. The U.S. Secret Service was created in 1865 to combat counterfeiting, which accounted for one-third of the currency then in circulation. It also investigated crimes from bank robbery and murder to illegal gambling. Kennoch (whose name was often given as “Kennock” in the books and newspapers of the day), served until his death at 46 in 1887. His obituary noted that he “was probably better acquainted with counterfeiters, their ways and haunts than any other detective in the country.” Hiram C. Whitley, Chief of the Secret Service under U.S. Grant, called Kennoch one of his “ablest” agents in his autobiography.

Kennoch maintained extensive photographic files containing annotated cartes de visite of fugitives, criminals and other wanted men and women.  Many of the photographs are annotated with names and aliases of the perpetrators and wanted criminals, crimes committed, and conviction and arrest dates. Most are annotated with the locations and names of their photographers.

This is an extraordinary archive documenting the life of a federal law officer and the criminals he tracked for more than fifteen years in post-Civil War America. In addition to the enormous photographic holdings, the collection includes the following manuscripts, relics,  and ephemera from Kennoch’s dramatic career:

•    Carte-de-visite photograph of Kennoch as a young man
•    Cabinet photograph of Kennoch
•    Tintypes of Kennoch and his wife Dora
•    Patent issued to Kennoch for “Improvement in Burglar-Alarms” 1875
•    Advertisement for Kennoch’s Burglar Alarms
•    Kennoch’s passport 1877
•    $5000 reward broadside for counterfeiter Thomas Ballard, “escaped from Ludlow St Jail” 1871
•    Report of the Chief of the Secret Service … for the year ended June 30, 1884
•    Dye’s Government Counterfeit Detector, Jan 1883, Apr 1884, and Dec 1886
•    John Bezell, United States Counterfeit Detector 1867 broadside
•    [H. C. Whitely.] Counterfeiting. Letter to the People [1872]
•    Circular of Instructions to Operatives, Secret Service 1873
•    brass loupe for examining counterfeit engraved notes
•    brass badges of H Co., 8th Regiment, New York National Guard, with its 1865 bylaws
•    documents connected with Kennoch’s estate and pension
•    extensive pocket diaries and memoranda books with detailed accounts of Kennoch’s travels and investigations, 1866-1885
•    More than 125 letters from Kennoch to wife Dora, 1864-1887. The letters, written from Canada, Havana, Michigan, New York, San Francisco, and points in between, testify to Kennoch’s wide-ranging assignments and his tenacity in tracking down counterfeiters. For example, in one letter he describes a 12-mile walk in a snow storm on a rough country road, noting that “it had to be done for I had to see five men and if I had went to their house with a horse and sleigh they would have thought I had too much money to deal in their goods so there was no other way but to walk … I have registered here as H K Williams at the Grant House.”

The first photograph shown here is Kennoch himself. Captions on the photographs shown here include:

•    Peter McCartney, a noted counterfeiter of the West
•    Wiles Ogle, engraver [multiple arrests listed]
•    Charles H. Goosbrion, burglar, pugilist & gambler
•    Frank Strikler, shover of cft. coin arrested June 16/86 Cinc O
•    James Harvey of Sing Sing N.Y., shover of cft. money. Known at New York City as Diamond Jim. Jumped his bail.
•    Nicholas E. Cooper, coin cfter. Went voluntary insane, put into Lunatic Asylum at Pontiac. Doctor states that the man is not crazy only playing at it.
•    Ella Kearney, arrested in Brooklyn with her father Emanuel Perrott for passing nickels

This tremendous collection, reflecting American financial, social, criminal, business, and photographic history, offers limitless research and exhibition possibilities.

Provenance: Kennoch family by descent.

the collection: $150,000