American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

Drachmas, Doubloons and Dollars: The History of Money

Manhattan Money


From its early days in the 17th century, New York City was a growing center of commerce and industry—which needed a good supply of coins and currency. In the colonial period, the acute shortage of coinage resulted in a number of special, and often exceedingly rare, issues of unofficial coins such as the New Yorke in America token and the Brasher doubloon (see case 9 and case 18). Many banks and businesses issued their own paper money. Small change was especially important, and the notes and tokens issued in the 19th century reflect interesting details about everyday life in the city.

During the 1830s, New York City and the rest of the country endured a severe depression in 1837, a stock crash caused many businesses in the United States to close down, and people hoarded coins. This resulted in an acute shortage of coins, and stores began to issue their own tokens, known as "Hard Times tokens." Although these were also used for advertising the various stores, they were accepted as money in the city. Many of the shops were in the historic downtown area of Manhattan surrounding the 1922 building in which the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is now housed.

Medals depicting landmarks of the city skyline were frequently issued in the 19th century. The Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty are still major attractions today, but some, such as the much admired Crystal Palace or the Croton Reservoir, are only known from contemporary representations.