During the winter of 1905-1906 there was a considerable agitation on the subject of forged municipal bonds, and numerous instances occurred causing serious loss and inconvenience. There are several ways in which this sort of forgery can be accomplished. As a municipal bond is not customarily executed upon protective paper, such as must be used for securities to be listed upon most stock exchanges, many being lithographed and perhaps only printed, any ordinary printing establishment being employed for the purpose, there is very little standing in the way of the reproduction of the actual form of the bond itself, the signature of the coupon being almost invariably a facsimile of that of the official required to sign the same, and not a pen and ink signature. Again, a good many smaller municipalities may leave the furnishing of the form of bond entirely to the banker, who may, with ease, have more bonds printed than required. Now, as to the attaching of the signature and seal. The latter is of no great difficulty, as a reproduction of the seal can most generally be made without much trouble. The signature, or several such, upon the face of the bond may be easily accomplished, as there is not great need of a careful imitation of the genuine. Bonds are not like a check, and the signatures ordinarily do not have to pass the scrutiny of some one familiar with the handwriting of the proper signers.
It will be seen that all the above is easily within the ability of a fairly clever dishonest person. When the first coupons mature, however, if collected through some other source than the party who forged them, the forgery will be detected; but, in the meantime, dishonest ends may have been accomplished.
There is one way which the purchaser of a municipal bond may reasonably satisfy himself as to the genuineness of the signatures. When the bonds are taken up and paid for by the banking house originally purchasing them, they should be accompanied by a paper, known as a " signature certificate," upon which should be the pen and ink signatures of each official required to sign the bonds, which signatures should be attested as genuine before some bank official in the city or town from whence the bonds emanated or by a notary public located therein. This "signature certificate," when carefully compared with the signatures upon the bonds, will prove pretty conclusively as to whether or no they are spurious. Bonds which have been outstanding for some years, and upon which it is reasonable to suppose that the coupons have been collected from time to time, would hardly require the taking of such precautions as above suggested, as it would be a reasonable certainty that forgery would have been long before detected. This all, therefore, applies to bonds of comparatively recent issue, or what may be termed " new issues."
The proper remedy for all this is for the several States to enact laws, as has already to a limited extent been done in at least one of our States, which should provide for the examination of each issue as to its legal status by the attorney-general, or some proper authority, and thereafter should bear a certificate to the effect that each bond had been so approved. Or, at least, laws should be passed whereby each bond issued by a municipality in any given State should be examined and found genuine by the proper State official and attested to that effect and sealed accordingly. Whereas, such bonds, perhaps, would not be entirely beyond forgery, it would make such an act difficult. This having them countersigned, as it were, is worth attention, as it brings into play the same precaution as taken by many banks and corporations in countersigning all checks.
The question may be raised: Why does not the same argument apply to corporation bonds? It will be observed that corporation bonds bear a certificate of the trustee, which is a safeguard somewhat similar to that suggested above. The purchaser of bonds of any kind should examine them very carefully to see that all signatures are attached, or seals placed thereon, if any are required, and that any certificates, such as a trustee's certificate, are signed. It is uncommon to find that any bonds have passed through the hands of reputable bankers with any of the above essentials omitted.