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going into a convenience store to pick up a few essentials, say, some soda,
chips, and assorted chocolates. You don't have exact change. As a matter
of fact you don't have any change, and neither does the clerk. "No problemo,"
says the clerk. "You can get a bigger bag of chips, give back the Hershey
with almonds, or maybe pick up a pack of gum, or buy a new comb. How about
Welcome to America in the mid 1800s.
An article from a newspaper, the "Washington Star," from the period reads: ". . . In 1862 small change became very scarce. . .It was more than a day's search to find a five-cent silver piece."
was about to cross the Mason Dixon line and the political and economic future
of the fledgling union was a hard read. The country's only mint in Philadelphia
had been in production less than a hundred years, the first coins rolling
out in 1793, and keeping silver and gold coins in the marketplace had been
a problem since the mints inception. As war loomed, hoarding coinage became
a national obsession. Reportedly, the floor of a building in New York used
to stockpile copper collapsed under the weight of the tons of squirreled
away pennies and half pennies it was supporting.
Necessity quickly mothered a number of trial solutions by inventive merchants, banks, and institutions, including promissory notes, metal tokens, and attempts to use regular postage stamps as change. But the public didn't take to wooden nickels, promissory notes too easily broken, or tokens amounting to nothing more than gestures. Clearly the federal government---which was preoccupied with first avoiding, then waging, a civil war---would have to become involved.
In 1862, General F.E. Spinner, then Treasurer of the United States, ordered that some postage stamps and blank paper on which government securities were normally printed be sent to his office. He cut some of the paper to small uniform sizes and proceeded to paste a few of the stamps in an orderly fashion onto the cut pieces of treasury paper.
Spinner's models were quickly
adopted and in 1862 the first of five separate production issues that
would stretch to 1876 entered the marketplace. The 5, 10, 25, and 50-cent
denominations of the first issue bore the name "Postage Currency" across
the top, but all issues thereafter were stamped, and became known as,
Please use the links below to find out more about the history of these exquisite examples of Americana, and to visit some of our sister sites.
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