Original calling card of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, a stiff single-ply manila-weight card with an affixed trimmed-to-shape National Banknote Company engraved proof of his vignette portrait — the one used on the first $1 federal Legal Tender banknote ever issued. Signed autograph in ink by Chase below and dated as well, February 11, 1864.
Not a carte de visite photographic reproduction. It is the genuine thing.
This item is sublimely iconic.
Chase was the prime mover behind the establishment of national federal legal tender as a means of enabling the financing of the Civil War, a major factor in the ultimate success of Union efforts to prevail in the conflict.
He undoubtedly influenced the decision to place his own portrait on the $1 "greenback" note that was issued in 1862 and made the most of the fact that his image was being popularized throughout the United States, circulating far and wide on the most commonly-encountered piece of paper money — it served him well as he positioned himself as a front-running candidate for the presidency in the election of 1864, challenging Abraham Lincoln even as he was serving in his cabinet.
Chase would often refer to his $1 portrait as he gave speeches, such as this one:
"I know that is what you would have advised me to do; and therefore, as my business was to interpret your will — to know what you would have me do, and then do it — I went to work and made "greenbacks," and a good many of them. I had some handsome pictures put on them; and as I like to be among the people, and was kept too close to visit them in any other way, and as the engravers thought me rather good looking, I told them they might put me on the end of the one-dollar bills."
In February 1864, a group of radical Republicans proposed Chase for president. Of considerable interest is the fact that the date of this piece, February 11, 1864, lies at the precise watershed of Chase's presidential ambitions. The first of the two privately mailed and severely anti-Lincoln pamphlets that destroyed his campaign first appeared in a newspaper the day before, and it would only be a few weeks before Chase was forced to withdraw from contention due to the firestorm the pamphlets had created.
The precision with which the vignette was trimmed strongly suggests that it was not a home-made production, but rather that it had been produced by a skilled Treasury Department worker. This would not be surprising, as Chase was in a position to get whatever he wanted and needed from Treasury — custom made calling cards of this sort certainly fell into this category.
Chase loved to use his $1 portrait as a calling card. In 1862, he courted Adele Cutts Douglas, the widow of his former enemy Stephen A. Douglas. Once, when she was not at home, he left half of a $1 banknote as a calling card, which of course had his portrait on it. Mrs. Douglas returned it, saying with mock severity that she could not accept money from a gentleman!
Lincoln was nominated for re-election at the June 7-8, 1864 Republican party convention. After a quarrel with the President three weeks later, Chase once again submitted his resignation — he had on several previous occasions done so, but Lincoln had turned them down. However, this time, and to Chase's surprise, on June 30, 1864, Lincoln accepted it. In another surprise move, President Lincoln appointed Chase to be Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court on December 6, 1864. Chase occupied that position until his death in 1873.