Fractional currency, also referred to as shinplasters, was introduced by the United States federal government following the outbreak of the Civil War. These low-denomination banknotes of the United States dollar were in use between 21 August 1862 and 15 February 1876, and issued in denominations of 3, 5, 10, 15, 25, and 50 cents across five issuing periods.The complete type set below is part of the National Numismatic Collection, housed at the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution.
The Civil War economy catalyzed a shortage of United States coinage—gold and silver coins were hoarded given their intrinsic bullion value relative to irredeemable paper currency at the time. In late 1861, to help finance the Civil War, the U.S. government borrowed gold coin from New York City banks in exchange for Seven-thirties treasury notes and the New York banks sold them to the public for gold to repay the loan. In December 1861, the Trent Affair shook public confidence with the threat of war on a second front. The United States Department of the Treasury suspended specie payments and banks in New York City stopped redeeming paper money for gold and silver. In the absence of gold and silver coin, the premium for specie began to devalue paper currency. After the New York banks suspended specie payments (quickly followed by Boston and Philadelphia) the premium on gold rose from 1–3% over paper in early January 1862 to 9% over paper in June 1862, by which time one paper dollar was worth 91.69 cents in gold. This fueled currency speculation (e.g., redeeming banknotes for silver coin which was then sold at a premium as bullion), and created significant disruption across businesses and trade. Alternate methods of providing small change included the reintroduction of Spanish quarter dollars in Philadelphia, cutting dollar bills in quarters or halves, refusing to provide change (without charging a premium for providing silver coins), or the issuance of locally issued shinplasters (i.e., those issued by businesses or local municipalities), which was forbidden by law in many states.
Treasurer of the United States Francis E. Spinner has been credited with finding the solution to the shortage of coinage: he created postage currency (which led into the use of fractional currency).Postage (or postal) currency was the first of five issues of US Post Office fractional paper money printed in 5-cent, 10-cent, 25-cent, and 50-cent denominations and issued from 21 August 1862 through 27 May 1863. Spinner proposed using postage stamps, affixed to Treasury paper, with his signature on the bottom (see illustration below). Based on this initiative, Congress supported a temporary solution involving fractional currency and on 17 July 1862 President Lincoln signed the Postage Currency Bill into law. The intent, however, was not that stamps should be a circulating currency.
The design of the first issue (postage currency) was directly based on Spinner's original handmade examples. Some varieties even had a perforated stamp-like edge. While not considered a legal tender, postage currency could be exchanged for United States Notes in $5 lotsand were receivable in payment of all dues to the United States, up to $5. Subsequent issues would no longer include images of stamps and were referred to as Fractional Currency. Despite the July 1862 legislation, postage stamps remained a form of currency until postage currency gained momentum in the spring of 1863. In 1863, Secretary Chase asked for a new fractional currency that was harder to counterfeit than the postage currency. The new fractional currency notes were different from the 1862 postage currency issues. They were more colorful with printing on the reverse, and several anti-counterfeiting measures were employed: experimental paper, adding surcharges, overprints, blue endpaper, silk fibers, and watermarks to name a few. Fractional currency shields which had single-sided specimens were sold to banks to provide a standard for comparison for detecting counterfeits. Postage and fractional currency remained in use until 1876, when Congress authorized the minting of fractional silver coins to redeem the outstanding fractional currency.
|Issuing period||Period dates||Denominations issued||Features/varieties|
|First issue||21 Aug 1862|
27 May 1863
|Issued as postage currency with two main varieties: 1) edges (straight versus perforated), and 2) monogram (presence or absence of the American Bank Note Co. monogram (ABCo) on the reverse). All four denominations bear the stamp motif on the obverse.|
|Second issue||10 Oct 1863|
23 Feb 1867
|Introduction of numerous anti-counterfeiting measures: bronze oval (obverse), bronze ink surcharge (reverse), use of fiber paper.|
|Third issue||5 Dec 1864|
16 Aug 1869
|Sporadic use of surcharges, signatures introduced (except 3-cent) both printed (PS) and autographed (AS), design features (or position indicators) – either the letter "a", the number "1", or both, on the extreme left obverse.|
|Fourth issue||14 Jul 1869|
16 Feb 1875
|Additional anti-counterfeiting measures: watermarked paper ("US”), embedding of large silk fibers, blue tinted end paper. [ check quotation syntax ]|
|Fifth issue||26 Feb 1874|
15 Feb 1876
|Color tinting in paper, silk fibers.|
|$0.05||First issue||65 × 43.5 mm||Fr.1231||Thomas Jefferson||1228 – Perforated; monogram|
1229 – Perforated; no monogram
1230 – Straight; monogram
1231 – Straight; no monogram
|$0.10||First issue||65 × 43.5 mm||Fr.1240||George Washington||1240 – Perforated; monogram|
1241 – Perforated; no monogram
1242 – Straight; monogram
1243 – Straight; no monogram
|$0.25||First issue||65.5 × 45 mm||Fr.1280||Thomas Jefferson||1279 – Perforated; monogram|
1280 – Perforated; no monogram
1281 – Straight; monogram
1282 – Straight; no monogram
|$0.50||First issue||65.5 × 45 mm||Fr.1312||George Washington||1310 – Perforated; monogram|
1311 – Perforated; no monogram
1311a – Same, except 14 versus 12 perf/20 mm
1312 – Straight; monogram
1314 – Straight; no monogram
|$0.05||Second issue||65.5 × 47 mm||Fr.1232||George Washington||1232 – No surcharge|
1233 – Surcharge "18-63”
1234 – Surcharge "18-63" and "S”
1235 – Surcharge "18-63" and "R-1”; Fiber paper[ check quotation syntax ]
|$0.10||Second issue||65.5 × 47 mm||Fr.1246||George Washington||1244 – No surcharge|
1245 – Surcharge "18-63”
1246 – Surcharge "18-63" and "S”
1247 – Surcharge "18-63" and "I”
1248 – Surcharge "0-63"
1249 – Surcharge "18-63” and "T-1"
|$0.25||Second issue||65.5 × 47 mm||Fr.1284||George Washington||1283 – No surcharge.|
1284 – Surcharge "18-63”
1285 – Surcharge "18-63" and "A”
1286 – Surcharge "18-63" and "S”
1287 – Unissued Friedberg number
1288 – Surcharge "18-63" and "2”
1289 – Surcharge "18-63" and "T-1”; fiber paper
1290 – Surcharge "18-63" and "T-2”; fiber paper[ check quotation syntax ]
|$0.50||Second issue||65.5 × 47 mm||Fr.1322||George Washington||1314 – No surcharge|
1315 – Unissued Friedberg number
1316 – Surcharge "18-63”
1317 – Surcharge "18-63" and "A”
1318 – Surcharge "18-63" and "1”
1319 – Unissued Friedberg number
1320 – Surcharge "18-63" and "0-1”; fiber paper
1321 – Surcharge "18-63" and "R-2”; fiber paper
1322 – Surcharge "18-63" and "T-1”; fiber paper[ check quotation syntax ]
|$0.03||Third issue||66 × 40.5 mm||Fr.1226||George Washington||1226 – Portrait light background|
1227 – Portrait dark background
|$0.05||Third issue||64 × 46 mm||Fr.1238||Spencer Clark||1236 – Red reverse|
1237 – Red reverse; design letter "a”
1238 – Green reverse
1239 – Green reverse; design letter "a"[ check quotation syntax ]
|$0.10||Third issue||81 × 47 mm||Fr.1254||George Washington|
|$0.25||Third issue||95.5 × 47 mm||Fr.1294||William Fessenden|
|$0.50||Third issue||114 × 48 mm||Fr.1328||Francis Spinner|
|$0.50||Third issue||114 × 48 mm||Fr.1339||Francis Spinner||1339 – Green reverse; no surcharge or design figures|
1340 – Green reverse; design figures "1” and "a"
1341 – Green reverse; design figure "1"
1342 – Green reverse; design figure "a"
|$0.50||Third issue||114 × 48 mm||Fr.1355||Justice holding scales|
|$0.10||Fourth issue||79 × 46 mm||Fr.1259||Bust of Liberty||1257 – Large red seal; watermarked; silk fibers (pink)|
1258 – Large red seal; silk fibers (pink)
1259 – Large red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
1260 – Does not exist
1261 – Smaller red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
|$0.15||Fourth issue||89 × 46 mm||Fr.1269||Bust of Columbia||1267 – Large red seal; watermarked; silk fibers (pink)|
1268 – Large red seal; silk fibers (pink)
1269 – Large red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
1270 – Does not exist
1271 – Smaller red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
|$0.25||Fourth issue||96.5 × 46 mm||Fr.1303||George Washington||1301 – Large red seal; watermarked; silk fibers (pink)|
1302 – Large red seal; silk fibers (pink)
1303 – Large red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
1307 – Smaller red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
|$0.50||Fourth issue||106 × 47 mm||Fr.1374||Abraham Lincoln||1374 – Large seal; watermarked; silk fibers (pink)|
1375 – Delisted Friedberg number
|$0.50||Fourth issue||103 × 46 mm||Fr.1376||Edwin Stanton||1376 – Small red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper|
|$0.50||Fourth issue||95 × 52 mm||Fr.1379||Samuel Dexter||1379 - Green seal; silk fibers (light violet); blue end paper|
|$0.10||Fifth issue||81 × 51 mm||Fr.1265||William Meredith||1264 – Green seal|
1265 – Red seal; long, thin key (in Treasury seal)
1266 – Red seal; short, thick key (in Treasury seal)
|$0.25||Fifth issue||88.5 × 51.5 mm||Fr.1308||Robert Walker||1308 – Long, thin key (in Treasury seal)|
1309 – Short, thick key (in Treasury seal)
|$0.50||Fifth issue||109.5 × 53.5 mm||Fr.1381||William Crawford||1380 – Red seal; light pink paper on obvserse; silk fibers|
1381 – Red seal; blue end paper; silk fibers
Three people were depicted on fractional currency during their lifetime: Francis E. Spinner (Treasurer of the United States), William P. Fessenden (U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Treasury), and Spencer M. Clark (Superintendent of the National Currency Bureau).Both Spinner and Clark decided to have their portrait depicted on currency, which created controversy. Republican Representative Martin R. Thayer of Pennsylvania was an outspoken critic, suggesting that the Treasury's privilege of portrait selection for currency was being abused. On 7 April 1866, led by Thayer, Congress enacted legislation specifically stating "that no portrait or likeness of any living person hereafter engraved, shall be placed upon any of the bonds, securities, notes, fractional or postal currency of the United States." On the date of passage, a number of plates for the new 15-cent note depicting William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant had been completed, as the plate proofs for these exist in the archives of the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History. However, the plates were never used to produce notes for circulation. The only Sherman-Grant examples produced were single sided specimens that were placed on Fractional Currency Shields.
A United States Note, also known as a Legal Tender Note, is a type of paper money that was issued from 1862 to 1971 in the U.S. Having been current for 109 years, they were issued for longer than any other form of U.S. paper money. They were known popularly as "greenbacks", a name inherited from the earlier greenbacks, the Demand Notes, that they replaced in 1862. Often termed Legal Tender Notes, they were named United States Notes by the First Legal Tender Act, which authorized them as a form of fiat currency. During the 1860s the so-called second obligation on the reverse of the notes stated:
This Note is a Legal Tender for all debts public and private except Duties on Imports and Interest on the Public Debt; and is receivable in payment of all loans made to the United States.
Large denominations of United States currency greater than $100 were circulated by the United States Treasury until 1969. Since then, U.S. dollar banknotes have only been issued in seven denominations: $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100.
The Sri Lankan rupee is the currency of Sri Lanka, divided into 100 cents. It is issued by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. The symbol ₨ is generally used, but the currency code "LKR" is occasionally used to distinguish it from other currencies also called rupee.
The United States one-dollar bill ($1) since 1876 has been the lowest value denomination of United States paper currency. An image of the first U.S. president (1789–1797), George Washington, based on the Athenaeum Portrait, a 1796 painting by Gilbert Stuart, is currently featured on the obverse, and the Great Seal of the United States is featured on the reverse. The one-dollar bill has the oldest overall design of all U.S. currency currently being produced. The obverse design of the dollar bill seen today debuted in 1963 when it was first issued as a Federal Reserve Note.
Silver certificates are a type of representative money issued between 1878 and 1964 in the United States as part of its circulation of paper currency. They were produced in response to silver agitation by citizens who were angered by the Fourth Coinage Act, which had effectively placed the United States on a gold standard. The certificates were initially redeemable for their face value of silver dollar coins and later in raw silver bullion. Since 1968 they have been redeemable only in Federal Reserve Notes and are thus obsolete, but still valid legal tender at their face value and thus are still an accepted form of currency.
A Demand Note is a type of United States paper money that was issued between August 1861 and April 1862 during the American Civil War in denominations of 5, 10, and 20 US$. Demand Notes were the first issue of paper money by the United States that achieved wide circulation and they are still in circulation today, though they are now extremely rare. The U.S. government placed the Demand Notes into circulation by using them to pay expenses incurred during the Civil War including the salaries of its workers and military personnel.
The Confederate States dollar was first issued just before the outbreak of the American Civil War by the newly formed Confederacy. It was not backed by hard assets, but simply by a promise to pay the bearer after the war, on the prospect of Southern victory and independence. As the Civil War progressed and victory for the South seemed less and less likely, its value declined. After the Confederacy's defeat, its money had no value, and both individuals and banks lost large sums.
The daler was the currency of the Danish West Indies between 1849 and 1917, and of the United States Virgin Islands between 1917 and 1934.
The dollar was the currency of Sarawak from 1858 to 1953. It was subdivided into 100 cents. The dollar remained at par with the Straits dollar and its successor the Malayan dollar, the currency of Malaya and Singapore, from its introduction until both currencies were replaced by the Malaya and British Borneo dollar in 1953.
The Refunding Certificate was a type of interest-bearing banknote that the United States Treasury issued in 1879. They issued it only in the $10 denomination, depicting Benjamin Franklin. Their issuance reflects the end of a coin-hoarding period that began during the American Civil War, and represented a return to public confidence in paper money.
Shinplaster was paper money of low denomination, typically less than one dollar, circulating widely in the economies of the 19th century where there was a shortage of circulating coinage. The shortage of circulating coins was primarily due to the intrinsic value of metal rising above the value of the coin itself. People became incentivized to take coins out of circulation and melt them for the true intrinsic value. This left no medium of exchange for the purchase of basic consumer goods such as milk and newspapers. To fill this gap, banks issued low-denomination paper currency.
Greenbacks were emergency paper currency issued by the United States during the American Civil War that were printed in green on the back. They were in two forms: Demand Notes, issued in 1861–1862, and United States Notes, issued in 1862–1865. A form of fiat money, the notes were legal tender for most purposes and carried varying promises of eventual payment in coin, but were not backed by existing gold or silver reserves.
The United States dollar is the official currency of the United States and its territories. The Coinage Act of 1792 introduced the U.S. dollar at par with the Spanish silver dollar, divided it into 100 cents, and authorized the minting of coins denominated in dollars and cents. U.S. banknotes are issued in the form of Federal Reserve Notes, popularly called greenbacks due to their historically predominantly green color.
Spencer M. Clark was the first Superintendent of the National Currency Bureau, today known as the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, from 1862 to 1868.
A fractional currency shield is a 20 in × 25 in printed "shield" on which is placed 39 different fractional currency notes. Produced in 1866 and 1867 by the Treasury Department, the shields were sold to banks for $4.50 each, for the purpose of having a genuine note available to use as a method of counterfeit detection. The 39 notes were printed from the original plates on one side only, the other side left blank, or with the printed word "specimen".
The copper-nickel three-cent piece, often called a three-cent nickel piece or three-cent nickel, was designed by US Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre and struck by the United States Bureau of the Mint from 1865 to 1889. It was initially popular, but its place in commerce was supplanted by the five-cent piece, or nickel.
The three-cent silver, also known as the three-cent piece in silver or trime, was struck by the Mint of the United States for circulation from 1851 to 1872, and as a proof coin in 1873. Designed by the Mint's chief engraver, James B. Longacre, it circulated well while other silver coinage was being hoarded and melted, but once that problem was addressed, became less used. It was abolished by Congress with the Coinage Act of 1873.
John Gault was an American entrepreneur and inventor who created the encased postage stamp. Gault used these encased postage stamps as a means to solve a coin shortage during the Civil War as well as ultimately profit from their sale.
A silver certificate is a certificate of ownership that silver owners hold instead of storing the actual silver. Several countries have issued silver certificates, including Cuba, the Netherlands, and the United States. Silver certificates have also been privately issued by various mints and bullion companies. One example was the Liberty Dollar issued by NORFED from 1998 to 2009.
The United States two-dollar bill ($2) is a current denomination of United States currency. A portrait of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States (1801–1809), is featured on the obverse of the note. The reverse features an engraving of the c. 1818 painting Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull.