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Curiosities of the United States Paper Money Cabinet, Part II

If you have not read Part I of this two-part series and would like to do so, please click here.

As we continue our exploration of miscellaneous paper issues from the United States, we trek further into the world of the odd, the strange, the comical, and the confusing. Let’s dive straight in with two examples of one of the most well-known and most successful private note series ever issued: Disney Dollars.

Although perhaps more appropriately described as a type of corporate or company scrip, Disney Dollars were not meant to be issued to and used by employees—unlike other, more notorious forms of company scrip, such as those issued by lumber and coal companies, the use of which was ultimately outlawed with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Instead, Disney Dollars were meant to be used by customers at various Disney facilities, including Disney theme parks, resort hotels, merchandise stores, and food and drink venues. Despite the fact that Disney Dollars are no longer available for purchase, they are still accepted by Disney at many of those same facilities.

Obverse and reverse of a One Disney Dollar note featuring Mickey Mouse. ANS 1989.78.1

Disney Dollars were a hit from the beginning, and were exchanged at parity with the U.S. dollar. In fact, their free and easy exchange from USD into Disney Dollars and vice versa almost certainly contributed to their success, as they could be purchased at face value and spent at face value, but many Disney collectors quickly realized from the outset that it was worth holding on to at least some of these notes, either because of the potentially limited runs of certain notes and series (i.e., natural scarcity), or because their use as currency (exchanged for goods and/or converted back to USD) coupled with their eventual wear and tear and the passage of time would result in more common notes becoming scarce, or at least becoming scarce in higher grades.

This proved to be true, and although many Disney Dollars can still be purchased for relatively modest sums—even in uncirculated grades—there are many other Disney Dollars that are truly scarce, be they proof issues, condition rarities, or simply issued in very limited numbers or sold during a very limited window. Paper Money Guaranty (PMG) even grades them. To satisfy the trivia addicts out there, here are some additional fun facts about Disney Dollars:

  • The idea for Disney Dollars was conceived by Disney artist Harry Brice
  • The first Disney Dollars were issued in 1987, and the final notes issued in 2016
  • Notes were printed in denominations of $1, $5, $10, and $50
  • Various series prefixes exist, including A, B, E, D, F, and T
  • Like U.S. paper money, low and interesting serial numbers can command a premium
  • 500 Yen and 1000 Yen notes were issued for Tokyo Disneyland starting in 1988
  • Errors exist, such as the 2013 $1 101 “Dalmations” note (correct spelling: Dalmatians)
Obverse and reverse of a Five Disney Dollars note featuring Goofy. ANS 1989.78.2

Next up is an object that should be familiar to anyone who lived during the 1990s when tobacco advertising and promotional activities were less restricted than they are today: a Camel cigarettes brand One Camel Cash note, also called a C-Note. While reminiscent of the slang term for a United States $100 bill, the Camel C-Note did not have quite the same purchasing power. In fact, as of March 31, 2007, Camel Cash has had effectively zero purchasing power, as this was the expiration date set by R. J. Reynolds to redeem any outstanding Camel Cash notes. Interestingly, this is in stark contrast to Disney, who continues to accept Disney Dollars long after the last notes were produced.

Although falling somewhere between a coupon and corporate scrip, Camel Cash notes could not actually be used to buy tobacco products; rather, the owner of said notes could send away for a catalog of Camel-branded goods, then redeem the collected C-Notes on promotional products. One wonders what kind of job promotion or bonus the inventor of this advertising scheme received upon unveiling a plan to induce users of a highly-addictive product to collect enough paper notes from the repeated purchase of said product, in order to redeem them for schlocky promotional wares designed to advertise the same highly-addictive product!

The One Camel Cash note in the ANS collection features a George Washington-esque Joe Camel on the obverse (Washington did grow tobacco, after all) and a litany of instructions and disclaimers on the reverse. Of special note is Joe Camel’s “signature” which also somehow manages to incorporate the semi-subliminal image of a burning cigarette into it.

Obverse and reverse of a One Camel Cash note featuring Joe Camel. ANS 1993.125.1

In the realm of satirical (perhaps even conspiratorial) paper notes is this One Counterfeit Dollar featuring very explicit anti-United Nations sentiments on both the obverse and reverse. It is (quite clearly) not professionally printed, and was likely crafted using a combination of photocopying hand-drawn elements together with cut-and-pasted images. On the obverse we find an image of Henry Kissinger at center, along with the names “Mao Tse-Dung” and German philosopher (and founder of the original Bavarian Illuminati) Adam Weishaupt, as well as an address for a Seattle-based action group, who presumably created and distributed the note—an address that appears to be situated in Burien, Washington, otherwise known as Seola Beach.

The reverse of this note features more anti-U.N. messaging, as well as suggestions that a New World Order plot is afoot (a joint effort by both Richard Nixon and Soviet politician Leonid Brezhnev if the note is to be believed). Although no contemporary date is listed, the imagery and themes on this issue suggest that it was fabricated in the late 1960s or early 1970s, during Kissinger’s time as National Security Adviser under Nixon, and when both were pursuing a policy of détente with the Soviet Union, and rapprochement with China.

Obverse and reverse of a One Counterfeit Dollar anti-United Nations note. ANS 1998.55.1

Lastly, a colorful—if not initially confusing—paper note with a declared value of One Thursday Buck. Taking center stage is Santa Claus, holding a bag underneath a rainbow with a money tree and pot of gold at our right and his left. Satirical exclamations abound, from the E Pluribus Kiddem within the rainbow, to the Ezeemunny Certificate at the top border. The note is “signed” by both Pass De Buck, and Ham N. Eggs, the latter giving a clue as to what this note is satirizing.

On the reverse we find For Use In Bankrupting / Scrambled Eggs For California, along with a list of affected parties to this State of Confusion, and a clearer picture begins to form. Upon further investigation, this note was produced to criticize the nascent Ham and Eggs movement, which was a plan borne out of a pension movement championed by physician Francis Townsend, whose Townsend Plan and subsequent Townsend Clubs helped propel the creation of the federal Social Security program. The Ham and Eggs movement advocated for a similar old-age pension plan, but one specifically designed for California residents. Their initiative was ultimately defeated in 1938, perhaps due in no small part to these satirical One Thursday Buck notes.

Obverse and reverse of a One Thursday Buck note featuring Santa Claus. ANS 2007.28.18

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!