In 1690 the Colony of Massachusetts issued what would be the first paper currency introduced in North America. While Paper Money had been first printed in China hundreds of years earlier, what we now know as Colonial US Paper Money was the first large issuance of banknotes in the western world. The thirteen original colonies which would later form the United States of America all issued paper money, and many of these notes are surprisingly affordable. In this article we will give some collecting ideas of these fascinating pieces. Thanks to the relative affordability of these notes they are within reach of many collectors. While generally collected within the scope of US Paper Money world collectors will find such issues interesting as well, as many were issued under British rule and as a result they will easily fit in an advanced world collection as well.
A basic collection that many collectors attempt to assemble is a single note from each of the original thirteen colonies: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island. A collection such as this is relatively easily assembled, although it can become more challenging by only seeking out those issued prior to the Declaration of Independence. Additionally, many collectors include Vermont (the 14th State) in such a collection, although this makes completion very difficult, as Vermont issued just a single series (dated February 1781) of which just 3,600 pieces of each denomination were printed. Most Vermont pieces are repaired or otherwise impaired, and finding high quality examples is extremely difficult.
While not a typical way of collecting. a study of the various printers of Colonial Paper Money is interesting, and can provide much insight into these historic notes. Among the printers that printed these notes is Benjamin Franklin, who worked as a printer in Philadelphia. His imprint is seen on notes from Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and are a tangible object produced by the famous statesman that is within reach of many. Other prolific and famous printers include Henry Dawkins, David Hall (first as partner of Benjamin Franklin and later with William Sellers) and Paul Revere.
Before Colonial Paper Money was issued into circulation they were signed by one or more prominent members of society, similar to how modern notes feature (printed) signatures. Many of these men are famous for other aspects in their lives. For example, notes exist that are signed by people who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation or the US Constitution. Such notes generally sell for a considerable premium over regular notes of a specific issue. Some collectors attempt to acquire a note signed by each individual that also signed the Declaration of Independence, for example, which is truly adding a piece of American history to your collection.
Part of what makes Colonial Paper Money so interesting is that each issue is different. There is a large number of different mottoes on the notes (generally in Latin, although sometimes in English), and some collectors attempt to acquire one example of each motto. Many of these mottoes are patriotic, particularly when one considers that they were issued around the time of the Revolutionary War. For example, one of the $25 denominations of the May 10, 1780 issue from North Carolina features the Latin Motto “Hora Pacis & Libertatis Appropinquat”, which translates to “The time for peace and freedom is approaching”. Also collected by some are the various seals and vignettes that appear on the notes. They range from simple leaf patterns (meant to deter counterfeiting, as it was difficult to copy) to elaborate designs and emblems with much detail, showcasing the capabilities of the printers at the time.
We hope that this blog has given some insight into US Colonial Paper Money. This truly is a fascinating subject that is often overlooked by collectors of both world and US Paper Money. There are endless possibilities when collecting these historic pieces, especially when one considers the time period that they were issued and the fact that that these notes were widely accepted by a population that previously had only used coins in commerce. If you are interested in reading more about these notes we can recommend The Early Paper Money of America by Eric P. Newman, a full catalog and the most important reference work on these issues.