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Early American Money

American Colonies Paper MoneyCreated by: PICRYLDated: 2017
Hart, John. Paper money. One shilling. Signed
Money in the colonies was denominated in pounds, shillings, and pence. The value varied from colony to colony; a Massachusetts pound, for example, was not equivalent to a Pennsylvania pound. All colonial pounds were of less value than the British pound sterling. The prevalence of the Spanish dollar coin in the colonies led to the money of the United States being denominated in dollars rather than pounds. Due to almost no money supply from Britain to colonies, colonies had to issue their own paper money to serve as an exchange. In 1690, the Province of Massachusetts Bay created "the first authorized paper money to pay for a military expedition during King William's War. Other colonies followed the example by issuing their own paper currency in subsequent military conflicts, to pay debts.
The paper bills issued by the colonies were known as "bills of credit." Bills of credit were usually fiat money: they could not be exchanged for a fixed amount of gold or silver coins upon demand. The governments would then retire the currency by accepting the bills for payment of taxes. When colonial governments issued too many bills of credit or failed to tax them out of circulation, inflation resulted. This happened especially in New England and the southern colonies, which, unlike the Middle Colonies, were frequently at war. Pennsylvania, however, was not issuing too much currency and it remains a prime example in history as a successful government-managed monetary system. Pennsylvania's paper currency, secured by land, was said to have generally maintained its value against gold from 1723 until the Revolution broke out in 1775.
This depreciation of colonial currency was harmful to creditors in Great Britain. The British Parliament passed several Currency Acts to regulate the paper money issued by the colonies. The Currency Act of 1751 restricted the emission of paper money in New England. It allowed the existing bills to be used as legal tender for public debts (i.e. paying taxes), but disallowed their use for private debts (e.g. for paying merchants).
Currency Acts of 1751 and of 1764 created tension between the colonies and the mother country and were a contributing factor in the coming of the American Revolution. When the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, all of the rebel colonies, soon to be independent states, issued paper money to pay for military expenses.
1756
1756
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1913
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1913
150 Media in collectionpage 1 of 2
Twenty dollars

Twenty dollars

Verso of a twenty dollar bill with a picture of a leaf. Illus. in: Rare Book Division - Colonial Currency Collection. Ref. copy may be in LOT 4412. This record contains unverified, old data from caption card.

A table shewing the value of any number of dollars, from 1 to 10,000, at seven shillings and six-pence. [Philadelphia] Zachariah Poulson, jun. 1778.

A table shewing the value of any number of dollars, from 1 to 10,000, ...

Imprint 3; Not in Evans; Not in Hildeburn; Printers ornament. Available also through the Library of Congress web site in two forms: as facsimile page images and as full text in SGML. Printed Ephemera Collection... more

In Congress, June 29, 1779. As Congress are bound by every motive of policy and of public & private justice to maintain the credit of the paper money emitted by their authority on the faith of the United States [Resolutions to borrow twenty mill

In Congress, June 29, 1779. As Congress are bound by every motive of p...

Imprint 3.; U. S. Continental Congress 1779.; Loans.; On verso: On public service to the Honorable Benjamin Bellowr Walpole. Available also through the Library of Congress web site in two forms: as facsimile p... more

United States Congress, September 1, 1781, Printed Table of Currency Scale, Paper Money to Silver

United States Congress, September 1, 1781, Printed Table of Currency S...

Printed Table of Currency Scale, Paper Money to Silver

Twenty five dollars

Twenty five dollars

Print shows a bank note for $25 with a bust portrait of George Washington, right profile, in a medallion surrounded by text which states: "The President, Directois and Company of Washington Bank in Westerly [Rh... more

The dollar bill issued by the Merchant's Bank of Trenton, November 20th, 1861, is recorded in D. C. Wismer's "Obsolete Paper Money With Portrait of Lincoln.

The dollar bill issued by the Merchant's Bank of Trenton, November 20t...

Accompanying typed manuscript claims it is the earliest dated bill to be ornamented with the Lincoln lineaments. Handwritten note to bottom of manuscript indicates there is a bill earlier than that dates August 10, 1861.

The President, Directors & Co. of the Powow River Bank will pay five hundred dollars to bearer on demand. Salisbury, Mass.

The President, Directors & Co. of the Powow River Bank will pay five h...

Print shows a railroad locomotive with fuel, freight, and passenger cars at top left, with buildings in the background. Circular design with large "D" and "Five Hundred Dollars" appears on lower left corner and... more

National currency / JS Conway.

National currency / JS Conway.

Print shows a trompe-l'oeil presentation of a U.S. $10 national currency issued by the "National Bank of Washington" pinned to a notice from the "[Treas]ury Department, National Note Bureau". C3279 U.S. Copyrig... more

[Confederate one hundred dollar bill]

[Confederate one hundred dollar bill]

Copyright by William Lee, M.D. Plate V, no. 1.

[Reproductions of three Confederate five dollar bills and a Confederate two dollar bill]

[Reproductions of three Confederate five dollar bills and a Confederat...

Plate IV. Nos. 9, 10, 11, and 12. Copyright by William Lee.

Two great questions. "Who is Ingersoll's Co.? - "Who stole the people's money? / Th. Nast.

Two great questions. "Who is Ingersoll's Co.? - "Who stole the people'...

Illustration shows, at top, Horace Greeley confronting James H. Ingersoll who is standing next to William "Boss" Tweed; at bottom, how the politicians who are members of Tweed's "Tammany Ring", "pass the buck" ... more