Funny Money That Was No Laughing Matter
If You Want Something Done Right,
Print Your Own Money?
The economies and banking of early America were as wild as the frontier. So wild that in the mid-1800s through the Civil War, banks, merchants and the filthy stinking rich of the time started printing their own money! Shinplasters.
The odd name, shinplaster, comes from the inferior quality of the paper. It was so cheap that, with a bit of starch, it could be used to make papier-mâché-like plasters that people put under socks to warm their shins.
Making an Ass of the Culprits
The favorite decorative element for the designs of these maverick bills were demonized illustrations of the men considered responsible for the economic panic. Cracking whips, made into monsters and animals or put into women's clothing – anything went.
Can Anyone Break a Quarter?
The reason for these homemade, small denomination bills was primarily to make change. Change like pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters were scarce or not available at all in some parts due to the emergency suspension of coin minting.
The Buck Stops Here
The government put an end to what it called "bank rags" and by 1890 also outlawed the private currency some mills and factories were using that were credits only redeemable at their own company stores.
Here's a printed 5¢ bill and a nickel from 1862. The Federal Government answered the hoarding of coins and precious metals in the shaky economy with their own fractional currency. But it was a "never cry wolf" situation; confidence was already weak.