Who was Spencer M Clark?

Updated: 4/28/2022
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An interesting story is attached to the third general issue of fractional currency and the suppression of the 15-cent Grant and Sherman note. The issue was responsible for two Acts of Congress and the authorization for coinage of the 5-cent nickel piece.

The story is that Spencer M. Clark, Chief of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, selected himself for distinction by having his likeness appear on the 5-cent note. The version is that Mr. Clark ordered that the portrait of Francis E. Spinner, Treasurer of the United States, be placed on the 50-cent note without consulting him. Spinner was pleased with it, and as he had authority to select portraits on new notes, approved of it. Other designs were selected at random; and when it came to issuing the 5-cent note, Spinner was asked whose portrait was to be selected. Mr. Clark remarked, "How would the likeness of Clark do?" Excellent," said Spinner, thinking that reference was made to Freeman Clark, the Comptroller of the Currency. The matter escaped further notice until the notes had been printed in enormous quantities. This caused so much uncomplimentary criticism that it resulted in an Act of Congress being passed (April 7, 1866) which prohibited the use of portraits of any living persons. In the interim, the 15-cent Grant and Sherman note had been prepared, but the act prohibited its issue. To get the Clark 5-cent notes out of the way, an issue of 5-cent nickels was provided for by the May 16, 1866 Act of Congress. This act also prohibited the manufacture of paper currency in denominations less than 10-cents.

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Q: Who was Spencer M Clark?
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