USA's banknotes

Part One: from 1861 to 1923

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American banknotes of life!

During the first half of the 19th century, the first issues of paper money in the United States were completely disorganized. Following independence, the federal government is content to issue licenses authorizing private banks to issue notes. But this system gets carried away to such an extent that in 1850 the country has more than 8,000 banks which each print up to eight different denominations. Private companies (hotels, railway companies) are also part of the party and print their own banknotes. Impossible for the average American to navigate, so that counterfeiters no longer even bother to copy existing banknotes and even have fun inventing new ones!

When the Civil War began, Abraham Lincoln's unionists financed the war effort by printing “Demand Notes” (1) of 5, 10 and 20 dollars. These banknotes are recognizable by their back printed in green, this color being deemed to be tamper-proof: the “greenback” was born. It is on this basis that Lincoln decides to standardize the entire system of issuing American banknotes with the Banknote Act of 1863 and 1864 and the issuance of the “Large Size Legal Tender Notes”. All local issues are eradicated with the nationalization of more than 1,500 private banks for the benefit of a single national currency managed and produced by the US Department of the Treasury. The dollar is guaranteed by the gold contained in the banks and we can no longer print more banknotes than gold contained in the coffers. The government then undertakes to reimburse each banknote issued against gold value. The United States effectively integrates the international gold standard, the first international monetary system determining the price of currencies between them and allowing the regulation of international trade ...

First part: banknotes issued between 1861 and 1923

Listing and cataloging all banknotes in the United States is a huge and long-term endeavor ... that the Numizon team is working to achieve today. But as we have a thousand other tasks to build in parallel, we have decided to deliver this US catalog in several portions! The organization of the banknotes presented in the Pick (World Paper Money) catalog being in our eyes confused and redundant, we finally adopted the classification established by the American reference catalog “Paper Money of the United States” by Arthur L. and Ira S. Friedberg, 21st edition. Here is the first part of this USA catalog and including all the banknotes of the following three categories:

1 - Large Size Notes - Demand Notes (1861)

Demand Notes are considered to be the first paper money issued by the United States. They were made due to a coin shortage during the American Civil War and were issued in denominations of $ 5, $ 10, and $ 20. They were exchangeable for coins and were gradually replaced by United States banknotes in 1862. After the war ended, these banknotes continued to circulate.

2 - Large Size Notes - Legal Tender Issues (1862-1923)

These notes, also known as Legal Tender Issues, succeeded Demand Notes. They weren't refundable but were admissible for any kind of transaction, which persuaded people to use them and pass them around. They had a red or brown seal and were issued in denominations of $ 1, $ 2, $ 5, $ 10, $ 20, $ 50, $ 100, $ 500 and $ 1,000. The two denominations of $ 5,000 and $ 10,000 issued in 1878 were not put into circulation.

3 - Compound Interest Treasury Notes (1863-1864).

In 1863 and 1864, treasury bills with compound interest were issued and paid out 6% an annual interest compounded semi-annually 3 years after their issue. Their denominations were $ 10, $ 20, $ 50, $ 100, $ 500 and $ 1,000. For these last two values, we did not find any copies and these banknotes are therefore not listed in the catalog.


Our Sources

« Paper Money of the United States » by Arthur L. and Ira S. Friedberg, 21e édition. 2017.
« United States » Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, 1368-1960, 12th edition (pages 1177 to 1182).
wikipedia : « Banknotes of the United States dollar ».

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