Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Meer to Thomas Jefferson, 18 June 1816

From John Meer

Philadelphia June 18th 1816


I have taken the liberty to enclose you a coppy of my Bank Note, Which I believe to be superiour in many respects to any other hitherto used. It is engraved on a Steel plate (mostly with a Hair pencil) It will print ten times more coppies than any copper plate, and will come at the same price of copper plates in general made for Bank notes. This mode of work produces great strength and richnes of colouring, and a boldnes of expression not to be obtained by any other means, yet the most delicate tints may be produced; and it is susceptible of an infinite variety of pattern and design. This invention is most likely to secure Bank Notes and all kinds of Official and confidential papers from forgery.

I shall be happy to supply any of the Governmental departments, and the Bank with plates.

If you will favour me with your recommendation you will confer a great obligation

On Sir Your’s Most Respectfully

John Meer

This specimen is not sent as a highly finished work of the artist, but to show the principle of the invention

you will see by this first and hasty specimen,1 that it is capable of very great improvement in the execution, I wish to have an opportunity of exemplifying this assertion.

RC (CSmH: JF-BA); adjacent to signature: “Thos Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 18 July 1817 but correctly recorded a year previously in SJL.

John Meer (1756–1831), artist and inventor, immigrated to the United States from his native Wolverhampton, England. By 1790 he had settled in Philadelphia, where in 1798 he became a naturalized citizen. In 1795 Meer exhibited flowers painted on the back of glass and five flower pieces “in imitation of Enamel.” He served as the president of the Society of Artists and Manufacturers in 1804, and in 1813 both he and TJ were incorporators of the Columbian Society of Artists, formerly the Society of Artists of the United States. Meer was the regulator of weights and measures for Philadelphia, 1809–18, and in 1812 he contracted to paint canteens and knapsacks for the United States Army. He received a patent in 1815 for graphic plates used for banknotes and another in 1818 for an improvement in bookbinding. Meer also developed a type of kaleidoscope by 1819, created a chemical process to harden argillaceous stone for use in sharpening razors and other cutting instruments in 1823, and improved varnishes used in japanning (Groce and Wallace, Dictionary of Artists description begins George C. Groce and David H. Wallace, The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America 1564–1860, 1957 description ends , 437; P. William Filby, ed., Philadelphia Naturalization Records [1982], 461; The Exhibition of the Columbianum or American Academy of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, &c. [Philadelphia, 1795], nos. 55, 56; Cornelius William Stafford, The Philadelphia Directory for 1798 [Philadelphia, 1798], 98; Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 31 Mar. 1804; Philadelphia Tickler, 24 May 1809; Thomas Sully to TJ, 22 Dec. 1811, and note; Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [Philadelphia, 1813], 73–6; Kite’s Philadelphia Directory for 1814 [Philadelphia, 1814]; John Adems Paxton, The Philadelphia Directory and Register, for 1818 [Philadelphia, 1818]; John Armstrong, Letter from the Secretary of War, transmitting A Statement of the Contracts which have been made during the year 1812 [Washington, 1813]; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 153, 194; City of Washington Gazette, 16 Jan. 1819; Boston Daily Advertiser, 21 Aug. 1822; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 23 July 1823; Thomas P. Jones, “On Japanning and Varnishing,” Franklin Journal, and American Mechanics’ Magazine 2 [1826]: 32; gravestone inscription in Norris Stanley Barratt, Outline of the History of Old St. Paul’s Church Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [1917], 250–1).

1Manuscript: “speimen.”

Index Entries

  • banks; engraving of banknotes for search
  • Meer, John; banknote engraved by search
  • Meer, John; identified search
  • Meer, John; letter from search