Confederate Currency

This bill is a $100 note from September of 1861. This is one of my favorites and is certainly one of the more beautiful notes ever issued, Confederate or otherwise.
The South never used dollar signs, but there are a few big "C"s on the note. We've all heard of "C" notes!? >More

Confederate Currency

The Confederate States of America released their first issue of paper money in April, 1861, when their provisional government was only two months old. The Civil War started that same month. The US Congress, on the brink of bankruptcy and pressed to finance the Civil War, authorized the United States Treasury to issue paper money for the first time that same year. The US notes were in the form of non-interest bearing Treasury Notes called Demand Notes.

The total amount of currency issued under the various acts of the Confederate Congress totaled $1.7 billion. Due to the scarcity of metal, however, the Confederacy never issued coins, instead releasing seventy different paper note 'types' between 1861 and 1865. The different types are listed in Grover Criswell's Catalog of Confederate Notes. For some types there are no varieties. Other types have thousands of minute variations, e.g., Crisell lists approximately 140 major and minor varieties of the 1864 $10 (type 68) note.

For a short time after the outbreak of the Civil War, Confederate currency was accepted throughout the South as a medium of exchange with high purchasing power. As the conflict progressed, however, confidence in Confederate success waned, emissions of paper money increased, and dates of redemption on the notes were extended further into the future. The inevitable result was the depreciation of the currency and the soaring prices characteristic of inflation. By the end of the conflict a cake of soap could sell for as much as $50 and an ordinary suit of clothes could sell for as much as $2,700, so you can imagine that if anyone needed equipment for a business, an equipment finance would have been necessary.

The first four Confederate notes were issued from Montgomery, Alabama, the original Confederate capital. These "Montgomery" notes exemplify the highest quality engraving and printing. After a few months the Confederate government was moved to Richmond, Virginia. Increasing demands for currency resulted in the employment of engraving, lithographing, and printing firms inexperienced in bank note production. This resulted in lowered quality and a multiplicity of note designs. Many variations in plates, printing, and papers also appear in most of these issues, due in large part to the limits on commerce resulting from the Union embargo of Confederate ports.

The Confederate notes are beautifully designed. Pictures of mythological Greek gods and goddesses appear on many notes, sometimes as a central design, and sometimes as an ornamentation. Images of slaves, ships, railroad trains, animals, state capitols, and, of course, ''real people' such as George Washington and 'Stonewall' Jackson, were also used. Since most of the bank plates and plate engravers and were in the North, Southern printers had to "lift", by offset or lithographic process, scenes that appeared on whichever notes they had access to.

Counterfeiting was a major problem for the Confederacy, owing both to the vast number of Confederate notes and varietals, and to the fact that Southern states and banks could issue their own notes, . There was even the case of Sam Upham of Philadelphia who hit on the idea of creating copies (counterfeits) of Confederate notes and selling them openly as souvenirs. The average Southern citizen would be hard pressed to tell a real note from a fake. Many of these contemporary counterfeits are known today and can be worth as much to a collector as a real note.

At the termination of the war, Confederate currency became valueless as a medium of exchange. Some notes were destroyed as waste paper, some were hoarded out of sentiment or futile hope, and some were preserved as curios. Later began the serious collection of specimans of the notes and the study of the different issues and varieties. Raphael P. Thian collected Confederate notes in the 1860s, making him the earliest paper money collector in America about whom we have information.

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