Fractional Currency

First issued in August 21st 1862, Fractional Currency, was ‘paper coins’ that served as a stand in for the shortage of silver and gold coins of the time. The causes of this unusual issue of official Fractional Currency at a time when people still preferred coins of high intrinsic value can only be found in looking at cases of cause and effects of war and life during the time of the Civil War.

A commonly stated reason for the fractional currency is that during the Civil War all of the gold, silver and copper coins in circulation disappeared due to the desire to save money and hoard coins because of their precious metal content. While this is certainly a factor and the most stated reason for Civil War Tokens, this only acted as one trigger for the manufacturing of the Fractional Currency.


1862 $1 Greenback

It would appear that the initial hoarding of hard money was caused by little more than an ingrained distrust of paper money. For example, a Yankee worker, whose livelihood was completely bound to the money of the North, would feel more secure when his paper wages had been converted to gold and silver. Often referred to as “faith paper” because one was never sure of the actual value of the paper money they were being given.

This expressed preference for coins inevitably depreciated Greenbacks. Gold coins commanded a premium of three percent over U.S. and state paper money in January, 1862. Thereafter the depreciation of Greenbacks accelerated, until at one point in 1864 it required $285 in paper to purchase $100 in gold. The distrust of the Government was also maintained by the national debt, which reached its high-point during the war in 1865 at $ 2.8 billion.

A monetary situation whereby gold commanded a substantial premium over a like face value of paper dollars swiftly drove gold coins from commercial channels, effectively removing the United States from a gold standard. It also created a favorable condition for the exporting of silver coins.

In 1858 Canada unofficially adopted the coinage of the United States and used it widely in domestic trade. The West Indies and many Latin American countries also imported large quantities of U.S. silver coinage for domestic use. During June and July of 1862, more than $25 million in subsidiary coins vanished from circulation in the North. The shortage of silver coins, particularly in the eastern United States, would not be relieved until the summer of 1876. The Philadelphia Mint continued a small production of silver coins; bullion dealers obtained them directly from the Mint and exported them abroad. By 1863, nearly the entire production of silver coins was exported.

The withdrawal of subsidiary silver coins in 1862 stopped the practice of everyday commerce. The smallest denominations of official money available were discounted $5 Legal Tender Notes and the copper-nickel cents which had been fed into circulation in great quantities to retire demonetized Spanish silver coins and the large copper cents.

When first forced upon the public in 1857, the copper-nickel cent, was intrinsically worth about 60 percent of face value and was considered a nuisance. But with the disappearance of silver coins the copper-nickel became the only alternative. Cents were bundled in bags of 25, 50 and 100 in an attempt to equal 1-cent piece and $5 bills.

The disappearance of nearly all official coinage resulted in an outpouring of private emergency money. State bank notes of $1 and $2 denominations were cut into fractional parts. Other banks issued notes in denominations of $1.25, $1.50, and $1.75. Eastern cities issued their own fractional notes. Merchants, reviving a practice prevalent during the coin shortages of 1837 and 1857, made change in their own promissory notes, which were notes of small value, redeemable in merchandise at the issuer’s place of business. In like manner, private issues of the collectible Civil War tokens began.


Horace Greeley

First issued by the Federal Government in 1847, the adhesive postage stamp had become a well-established part of the public routine. They were of official origin, had a constant value, and were easily obtained. In early July, 1862, Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, suggested that stamps pasted on a half sheet of paper, with the other half folded over the stamps to protect from wear, would work as a coin substitute.

Methods of protecting the stamps were quickly developed. They were pasted on sheets of light vellum paper or encased in small envelopes. Pasting the stamps on sheets of paper still did not provide them sufficient protection from wear and those enclosed in envelopes were better protected, but the method of protection provided an opportunity for petty theft because few recipients had the time to check the contents of each envelope.

The method of stamp packaging which best satisfied the requirements of visibility and protection was patented on August 12th, 1862, by a New England inventor named John Gault. Gault encased a single postage stamp in a round brass frame with a clear mica front piece. The reverse of this case displayed advertising messages. But for the eventual authorization of Postage and Fractional Currency, Gault’s encased postage stamps would probably have become the go-to means of “spending” postage stamps. The timing of Gault’s encased stamps also worked against their quantity distribution, the Postmaster General, Montgomery Blair, was still not on board with the idea of using postage stamps for money, and was doing everything in his power to prevent quantity sales of stamps. All methods of using stamps for money that had been employed prior to July 17th, 1862, suffered the ultimate disadvantage of being illegal.

On July 17th 1862, President Lincoln signed into law, providing that “postage and other stamps of the United States” were to be received for all dues to the U.S. and were to be redeemable at any “designated depository” in sums less than $5. The law also prohibited the issue by “any private corporation, banking association, firm, or individual” of any note or token for a sum less than $5. But there was the problem of who would redeem nearly exhausted specimens of stamps which had been circulating for some time. Postmaster Blair refused to take them in trade for new stamps and the Treasury would not exchange them for paper money because they hadn’t issued them in the first place.

A  further decision was then made to distinguish the stamps by issuing them in a larger, more convenient size, and to print them on a heavier, un-gummed paper. Credit for the final form in which Postage Currency appeared is given to General Francis Spinner, Treasurer of the United States. Spinner pasted unused postage stamps on small sheets of Treasury security paper, signed his name on them and passed them out to his friends as samples of currency.


Spinner’s Initial Signed Design

Congress responded to Spinner’s suggestion by authorizing the printing of reproductions of postage stamps on Treasury paper in arrangements patterned after Spinner’s models. In this form, the “stamps” ceased to be stamps; they became, fractional Government promissory notes. The notes would be issued without legal authorization until passage of the Act of March 3rd, 1863, which provided for the issuing of fractional notes by the Federal Government.


4th Issue 10 Cent Fractional Currency

Five issues of Postage and Fractional Currency in the total amounted to $369 million were printed and released to circulation between Aug. 21, 1862, and Feb. 15th, 1876. Congressional Acts of January 14th, 1875, and April 17th, 1876, provided for the redemption of Postage and Fractional Currency in silver coins, and all but about $1.8 million worth was returned to the Treasury for redemption. The remaining notes are still deemed legal tender and can purchase their face value equivalent in goods and services today.

Civil War Tokens

The year of 1862 for the United States was one of tensions and disparity as the relationship between the North and South became more and more strained. The economy was shaky as precious and semi-precious metals rose in value. People were hoarding their coins because it made more sense then to spend them. The metal in a one-cent penny could be worth up to five cents; so people kept their coins stashed away in hopes of saving money.

By the end of 1862 newly minted coins weren’t being spent. Business owners were struggling and needed to find a way to still sell their goods and services. The Union’s government tried to solve this by creating unsupported paper money and even briefly issued postage stamps to use as currency. While a good idea the currency was not ever widely adopted and did little to solve the problem.

During the Napoleonic era the British people had created their own tokens to be used in exchange for goods until the crisis had been taken care of. With most Americans having close descent to the British it wasn’t a far stretch to take on this same idea and thus Civil War Tokens were produced. There were a variety of tokens produced and manufacturers charged an average of 73 cents per hundred tokens. These tokens typically mimicked small change about the size of a modern day penny. Made with metals not in as high of demand such as lead, copper, brass, and sometimes even rubber. For die sinkers and private minters hoping to profit, tokens were a legal gray area they were quick, but careful, to exploit. At the time, counterfeiting laws were specific when it came to gold and silver coinage, but other metals were not in the same category. Two common types of Civil War Tokens were Storecards and Patriotics.


Patriotic Civil War Token

Patriotics were coins that utilized a generic die to create and mass send out to merchants. It was common for them to feature pro-Union slogans and general patriotism- hence the name. These generalized coins were cheaper for merchants to purchase and were the best and easiest way to provide currency for their customers.






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Dry Goods Groceries Storecard

Storecards were specialized tokens that would feature a merchant or proprietors name, address, advertisement, etc. These cost more than the Patriotics because they were specific to a business and couldn’t be mass produced in the same fashion as the Patriotics. While each coin was different there was a popular wreath design that often adorned the Storecard coins and it was common for them to be inscripted with something such as “Business Card” or Store Card”.



As the Civil War was coming to a close in 1864 the Civil War Tokens began to lose value. Officially use of them was banned in April with the 1864 Coinage Act. While this act didn’t specifically prohibit Civil War Tokens the cent’s size, weight, and metal composition was revised in a way that mimicked the Civil War Tokens while simultaneously outlawing the tokens.


While Civil War Tokens we’re only used for a short two years there’s an estimated 25 million that were created. With over 10,000 varieties that represented 22 states, 400 towns, and about 1,500 merchants.

Check out our collection of Civil War Tokens on our Ebay store.

Thanks for reading!

Patriotism Through Postage: Civil War Envelopes


The first official US postage stamps were issued in 1847, and decorative envelopes were not far behind them. By the middle of the 19th century, such covers were used to spread Union and Confederate sentiments. These political envelopes began to see use in the 1850s as divisions between Northern and Southern states were shaping up, though the earlier envelopes usually focus on images without slogans.


american-civil-war-envelope-1393774341GFaUnion envelopes often favored a 34-starred flag, a symbol of the illegitimacy of the Southern secession. Slogans often accompanied these designs, such as “we must keep the Flag where it e’er has stood,” and “Not a Star Must Fall.” Not all sentiments were so lofty. Some envelopes had designs with messages like, “If anyone attempts to haul down the flag, shoot him on the spot!” and “Hemp is better for traitors than cotton.”



Confederate senders preferred phrases like “Liberty or Death,” “Fast Colors…Warranted not to run,” and “Southern Independence.” Poetry was popular as well, with such lines as “stand firmly by your cannon. Let ball and grape-shot fly. Trust in God and Davis, and keep your Powder dry.”


In the northern states, the Union flag took on special significance, as its 34 stars implied that the Southern states had no right to secede. Putting the flag on an envelope, then, was a clear message about the sender’s feelings regarding the legitimacy of the Confederate government.



Prominent soldiers often found themselves on these envelopes. Generals Grant and McClellan were particular favorites, but Colonel Michael Corcoran of the 69th Regiment (the “Fighting Irish”) found popularity when he was captured by the Confederates for a year. Envelopes featuring Corcoran read “Sons of Erin — Let the watchword be Corcoran! Rescued if living. Avenged if dead!”





Destruction_of_Merrimac,_May_11,_1862.pngMilitary images also came into vogue. Corps insignia, flags, battle scenes, and more were pictured on these envelopes. Corner designs spread until they covered the entire envelope (and were the forerunner of the postcard, which became popular a few decades later.) Some envelopes ran designs in series to depict major events of the war, like Shiloh and the Battle of Gettyburg. Even the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack found its way onto these envelopes.



800px-Civ_war_union_Patriotic_cover2By the time war began in 1861, people on both sides were collecting the envelopes as mementos, often never sending them through the mail at all. According to an article in a 1943 issue of American Collector, “Car Bell, the Hartford printer, issued a cover to promote this hobby. It showed a top-hatted gent, with carpet-bag, reading a newspaper which advised: ‘A collection of Union envelopes in a few years from now will form a most valuable and pleasing curiosity, and will be sold at double the original cost.’”



Over 15,000 unique patriotic designs are known, most of which express Union sentiments. These envelopes were created by 116 known printers, working in 39 cities. Charles Magnus (in New York) and James Magee (working in Philadelphia) were the two leading producers of collectible envelopes. Magnus worked next door to the famous Currier & Ives, and his work was similar to that of the famous duo. In fact, since it is known that Currier & Ives did artwork for other firms who put their own imprints on the design, some believe that most of the designs issued under Magnus’ imprint were actually done by Currier & Ives.


James Magee, on the other hand, had an eye for profit, and realized that collectors in Northern states would pay high prices for Confederate souvenirs. He began printing fake designs in Philadelphia and selling them as genuine rebel items.


Use of these envelopes declined as the war came to an end, though they are still highly prized as collectibles, particularly the unused envelopes.

The Unusual Origin and History of the Butler Medal


At the end of the Civil War, Major General Benjamin Butler of the Union Army did an unusual thing. Impressed by the fortitude and courage of the black men who fought under his command during the war, he decided to honor them with a particularly ornate medal: it featured a design by well-known sculptor Anthony Paquet, and hung around the neck from a red, white, and blue ribbon. The medals were struck by the Tiffany Company in New York. The inscription on the obverse of the medal reads, “Ferro iis libertas perveniet,” which translates, approximately, to “Liberty will be theirs by the sword.” The reverse bears inscriptions reading “Distinguished for Courage”and “Campaign Before Richmond 1864.” 


General_Benjamin_Butler_Brady-Handy.jpgButler himself wrote, after the war, “I had the fullest reports made to me of the acts of individual bravery of colored men on that occasion, and I had done for the negro soldiers, by my own order, what the government has never done for its white soldiers – I had a medal struck of like size, weight, quality, fabrication, and intrinsic value with those which Queen Victoria gave with her own hand to her distinguished private soldiers of the Crimea… These I gave with my own hand, save where the recipient was in a distant hospital wounded, and by the commander of the colored corps after it was removed from my command, and I record with pride that in that single action there were so many deserving that it called for a presentation of nearly two hundred.” Butler paid for the medal out of his personal funds.



32844871945_39656942a8_mMost of the extant medals provide no clues about which soldier they might have belonged to, but a few are known. According to CoinBooks, this medal belonged one Abraham Armstead. “He was a slave in eastern NC until he got to Union lines and signed up at age 43. Six weeks later, he was the sergeant of his company. Imagine Morgan Freeman in Glory, but real…Every other one of these I’ve seen is in nearly perfect condition, laid in a drawer one day in 1865 and forgotten about. It looks like Sergeant Armstead wore this one day in and day out for years. Nobody knows the trouble it’s seen.”




Shortly after the medals were awarded, Butler was relieved of his command by General Grant, and replaced by General Edward Ord. The soldiers who were awarded the Butler medal were informed that they could not display the medal on their uniforms. The Butler medal was the only medal ever struck solely for black soldiers, and is considered an unofficial unit-specific decoration, though several attempts have been made to have it officially recognized by the Army. Fewer than five original medals are known to exist today, though replicas have been made.

The Truth About Captain America’s Unique World Coins

With the third installment of Marvel’s Captain America movie franchise coming to theaters this week, it’s time to put his story into historical context. Often, it’s the odds and ends that tell us more about someone’s life than the big story moments. What stories would Steve Rogers’ pocket change tell?


The story begins

In June 22, 1943, a physically weak but passionate recruit, Steve Rogers, volunteered for an experimental Army super-soldier program, and was transformed into Captain America in New Jersey. Due to sabotage, Steve Rogers was the only such super-soldier made before the lab was destroyed. To avoid being used for research, he joined the USO for a tour of the US, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

So what United States coins might the new Captain America have carried?

s-l1600During WWII, the military needed all the copper it could get, and began minting steel pennies in 1943. This penny rusted quickly, and would not work properly in many coin machines; this made it unpopular with the general public. In 1944-45, the government began issuing “shell-case” cents, made from spent ammunition shells. Some of these coins contain streaks of other colors, due to the mixed metals they were made from. In addition to the unique steel and shell-case cents, the government issued silver nickels  from 1942-45, and silver quarters from 1932-1964.

Captain America likely would have had a mix of these coins in his pockets, as well as coins minted before the copper shortage, as he began traveling with the USO.


The UK and Italy Tour

For five months, Captain America toured with the USO as part of a “morale-boosting” show for troops at home and abroad. This show traveled through the United Kingdom and Italy, before Captain America broke away to raid a HYDRA facility in Italy and rescue his best friend,  Bucky Barnes, along with other Allied soldiers.


British coinage did not change substantially in WWII, and Captain America likely would have found himself with a few British pennies with the 1937 George VI image, as well as the 50% silver shilling, minted from 1920-1946.



Allied troops in Italy were issued a unique banknote: the AM-Lira, worth $1 US. These notes were issued after the Allied landing in Sicily on July 9, 1943, a few months before Cap and the USO arrived.


Captain America Becomes A Hero

After the raid on the HYDRA facility in Italy, Captain America created his crack team, the Howling Commandos. Tired of having his abilities used for entertainment, Cap led his team on a whirlwind trip around occupied Europe, raiding HYDRA bases and freeing prisoners of war.


Belgium_zinc_coins_World_War_II_1940sIn January and February of 1944, the team destroyed HYDRA facilities in Belgium and Slovakia. Both countries had extensive coinage minted during the years of German occupation. Belgian francs and centimes were minted in 100% zinc as an emergency issue; the centime is 1/100th of a franc. Coins were available in 1 and 5 franc denominations, as well as 1, 10, and 25 centime denominations. While many coins listed the country as “Belgie-Belgique,” some coins reversed this order. 

korunaIn Czechoslovakia (Soviet Slovakia at the time), a wider range of coins were available. The 5 halier coin (1942-47) was minted entirely from zinc, while the 10 (1939-47) and 20 (1940-43) halier coins were minted in brass (92% copper and 8% zinc.) The 50 halier piece had two versions: one, minted from 1941-48, was cupronickel (80% copper, 20% nickel); the alternate piece was 100% aluminium. The koruna was minted in cupronickel in the 1 koruna denomination (1940-47), in nickel for the 5 koruna (1939-47), and silver for both of the 20 koruna coins (1939-47, 1941-47).


The End of an Era

In early 1945, Captain America and the Howling Commandos helped capture Nazi scientist Arnim Zola in the Austrian Alps. During this mission, Cap’s best friend and fellow solider,  Bucky Barnes, was lost over the side of the train and presumed dead. To avenge his friend and attempt to end the HYDRA threat, Captain America led a daring mission into the heart of HYDRA, and boarded the Valkyrie aircraft, which was on course to destroy New York City. Unable to change the plane’s course, Captain America chose to crash the plane off the coast of Greenland. He was presumed dead on March 4, 1945, and his disappearance released to the public on March 5. He would not be heard from for another 67 years, when an expedition dug him out of the ice.


5_Reichsmark_1938During his short time in Austria , Captain America might not have picked up any Austrian coins at all. Until 1938, the 1, 2, 5, and 50 groschen coins were minted (in bronze for the 1 and 2 groschen denominations, and cupronickel for the 5 and 50), along with 1 and 5 schilling coins (in cupronickel and silver, respectively). After the annexation of Austria in 1938, Austrian currency was replaced with the Reichsmark. 


We’ll never know exactly which coins Cap carried during his WWII days, but it’s fascinating to speculate. (And the romantic among us might carry a hope that he kept at least one British coin to remind him of Peggy Carter!)


Many of the coins mentioned here are for sale from The Stamp and Coin Place! Click the links above, or browse our selection here.

Encased Postage Stamps

During the Civil War, a shortage of supplies forced people to take strange measures. The shortage extended to gold, silver and copper, which people hoarded for themselves. And many people did not believe that paper money had actual value.

In response, the government passed a law in 1862 that allowed people to use postage stamps worth less than $5 to pay off debts to the government since these gave evidence of having paid for postage. Usually the stamps were worth 1 to 10 cents, used to make exact change.

But it was immediately clear that fragile postage stamps might be more trouble than they were worth. The questionable lasting nature of paper made stamps difficult to use as currency.

That’s where a man named John Gault comes in. Gault was an inventor and entrepreneur who created a solution to this stamp problem.


Gault proposed a “New Metallic Currency” that held stamps in a less delicate holder. These coin-shaped holders held a familiar coin shape that prevented stamps from being torn, bent or lost. The holder were originally made of silver so they looked more like real coins, but these quickly proved too expensive, so he made the holders out of brass instead.

Gault knew that he could make a profit from his invention. He sold the cases to stores and, in a clever marketing plan, used the back of the holder for advertising. One of the most prevalent advertisers was J.C. Ayer, a medicine business.

The stamp holders only lasted so long. In 1863 the government issued fractional coins that helped with the coin shortage, and stamps were no longer needed. Gault didn’t produce encased postage long after that as there was no demand for the postage anymore.

These encased stamps are quite rare today because most were torn apart to get to the stamp inside. Mint condition cases can sell for up to $4000.

How the Civil War Caused the Ban on Private Coins

Once upon a time, some US citizens renounced government-issued coins and decided to make their own.

Between 1861 and 1864, Civil War tokens were privately minted and distributed in the United States, before the government set stricter standards on coins as currency.

If privately-made coins seem odd from the modern perspective, it is even more strange to consider that in 1862, Americans hoarded coins with gold and silver, as well as copper-nickel pennies. As a result, millions of government-issued coins began to vanish from circulation. The craftiest private businesses decided to capitalize on this and started making private tokens.

Those that imitated the cent sometimes had the very small word NOT over ONE CENT. How’s that for the ultimate fine print?

These tokens were made and used mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. They had huge variety in design, though many faithfully imitated the copper-nickel cent.

A Civil War store card

A Civil War store card

Three main types of Civil War tokens were created:

  • Patriotic: These displayed a patriotic symbol or slogan, most of which were pro-Union.
  • Store cards: Merchants made store cards to promote their business, with one side spelling out the name and location of the private business.
  • Sutler tokens: Similar to store cards but instead displaying the name of an army unit. A sutler was a merchant who ran a kind of general store for the military. Most sold their items from transportable tents or the backs of wagons, which allowed them to travel where the army was. These are the rarest of the civil war tokens.

The Mint Director at the time, James Pollock, thought these privately-made coins were illegal, but at the time no law prohibited private coins not in imitation of US coins.

But eventually, the US government had had enough of this private coinage. On April 22, 1864 the United States determined a specific composition and weight for cents and two-cent pieces and declared only those approved by the government to be legal, two years after the Civil War tokens’ beginning. On June 8 of the same year, another law forbade the private minting of gold coins.

At the time of the ban there were roughly 25 million private Civil War tokens in circulation. After they stopped being useful, they became a coin collector’s dream.

What do you think of these privately-made tokens? If you made your own tokens, what would you put on them?


Silver & Gold Hoarding

Civil War Tokens

A Century of Lawmaking