Tag Archives: certificates

Curiosities of the United States Paper Money Cabinet, Part I

For numismatists and collectors alike, there’s nothing quite like exploring an area of numismatics that one knows little about, or hardly knew existed at all until being exposed to it. After changing my mind several times regarding the topic for this week’s Pocket Change blog post, I accidentally hit upon an area of paper money that I had not really traversed before: miscellaneous paper issues from the United States. This broad (and somewhat vague) title of my own designation brings to mind everything from postal drafts and money orders, to checks, coupons, food stamps, company and community scrip, toy money, play and movie notes, and of course, biting (and sometimes salacious) satirical notes.

In fact, the area of the U.S. paper money collection at the American Numismatic Society that houses all of the above (and more) sits at the very end of the U.S. paper money universe, where federal and state issues end, and everything else begins. Despite it’s catch-all nature, this small section of the U.S. paper money cabinet is neither exhaustive nor intimidating. Rather, it is a tidy little outpost, and casually combing through it will yield a variety of interesting, colorful paper (and occasionally cloth) notes of all kinds. Here, then, is Part I of a two-part series showcasing the items I found captivating enough at first glance to warrant further investigation. Several issues also needed digital accessioning, and all of them lacked photographs, meaning this blog post was as good an opportunity as any to have them properly photographed and digitally recorded.

Obverse and reverse of a Post Office Department Draft dated March 5, 1840 for $96.73. ANS 0000.999.57568

The Post Office Department — the original precursor to today’s United States Postal Service — was born in 1792, it’s creation fueled both by the Postal Service Act of 1792, and the powers granted to Congress by the United States Constitution to establish throughout the land “Post Offices and Post Roads.” The above Post Office Department Draft was issued several decades before the Post Office Department began offering money orders in 1864 (originally a British invention), and by the early 1860s, the idea of postal money orders was already being bandied about in newspapers such as the New York Times, who on March 17, 1862 argued that “The English system has been brought to that state of perfection that we feel satisfied that we had far better copy, it in all its entirety and with all its simplicity, than attempt any mere adaptation thereof.” As such, this transfer draft is more akin to a bank check than a money order, in that the amount of $96.73 was already on deposit with this Hartford, CT Post Office, and could therefore be transferred to the payee “At sight” as noted on the document.

Obverse and reverse of a redeemed $10 San Francisco Clearing House Certificate. ANS 0000.999.57569

Although the aforementioned Post Office Department Draft suggests that the early Post Office Department offered at least some banking-adjacent services, a true postal banking system did not exist until the United States Postal Savings System of 1911, itself spurred by the Panic of 1907, which the above San Francisco Clearing House Certificate is related to. Small denomination scrip of $1, $2, $5, $10, and $20 notes were issued in late 1907 and early 1908, circulated during the worst of the panic, and when tensions eased, were quickly redeemed in those same years. These small denomination scrip were part of a much larger “Loan Certificate” scheme to mitigate the detrimental effects of the Panic of 1907, and the whole program — especially the low value scrip — was an overall success, despite the “general aversion of the public in California to [accept] any kind of paper money.”

Obverse and reverse of a Klaw and Erlanger Stage Money Note produced by the Standard Engraving Company. ANS 0000.999.57570

For stage productions that required actors to use money during their performances, the decision to use prop money instead of real paper currency was likely predicated on the notion that it was impractical to use real money that could be lost or damaged on stage; furthermore, the question of who exactly would supply said currency (the production company? The theatre? The actors?) for use on stage probably added to the impracticality of going this route, when prop money would function just as well. Additionally, any prop money used on stage would be hard to see in any real detail by the audience, even by those in the first few rows, and given that prop money (when needed at all) was likely only required for a few select (and probably short) scenes, it stands to reason that the notes did not need to be highly detailed either, as evidenced by the above note.

Klaw and Erlanger as a management and production company existed from 1888 until 1919, starting in New Orleans, and finally making their way to New York City, where in 1903 they opened the New Amsterdam Theatre (home of the Ziegfeld Follies from 1913 to 1927). Klaw and Erlanger were also members of the somewhat infamous Theatrical Syndicate, which controlled bookings for most of the top theatres in the United States for over a decade.

Obverse and reverse of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Coupon valued at 50 Cents. ANS 1985.135.1

In 1964, the Food Stamp Act was passed by Congress at the behest of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Over the years, participation in the program expanded at a steady clip, with more rapid growth occurring during the 1960s and 70s as the program spread across the United States, as it was overseen by individual states during this time. In 1974, the program became national, and overall participation has grown as the general population of the United States has increased, hitting a peak of 47.6 million people in 2013, although that number has since come down and now sits around 43 million people as of June, 2021.

During this time, the nationwide program has undergone many legislative changes, both major and minor, and is often a hotly debated topic among politicians and political parties. One major change was the development — first piloted in 1984 — of the Electronic Benefit Transfer system, or EBT for short, that allowed participants to pay retailers directly from their federally-managed balance using a specially-issued debit card. This spelled the end of paper notes such as the above 50 Cents Coupon, and as of 2004, all 50 states, D.C., the Virgin Islands, and Guam, were using the EBT system to issue benefits.

The above note displays the directives Do Not Fold and Do Not Spindle, ‘spindle’ in this case meaning to impale or spear onto a metal spindle for filing.

Stay tuned for the 2nd and final installment of this blog post in the coming months!