I open my wallet, finger a $20 bill, pull it out and hand it to the farmer. In return I load my bag with fresh apples and pears, or beets and squash. The paper note is lightweight, compact, easily folded and stored. It is accepted anywhere in the country, for any purchase, any time. This reliable currency did not always exist.
Between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, most people preferred carrying gold and silver coins for transactions. The paper money was locally printed by banks, merchants, states, and cities; one never knew if it would hold its value or if it would be accepted by folks in the next town over. In 1861, the federal government began its efforts to convert the country to a uniform currency. On demand notes were issued in $5, $10, and $20 denominations, and could be redeemed for the equivalent in gold “on demand”. In 1862, the first $1 bill was issued as Legal Tender.
The National Banking Act of 1863 established a national banking system, and with it a uniform national currency. Under this act local banks could apply for a national charter. The institution could then purchase United States bonds which were stored with the U.S. Treasury, and have a corresponding amount of paper currency issued. This worked to both parties’ advantage: the federal government could fund its war against the Confederacy and the banks could continue issuing their own unique currency.
Until 1877, these national bank notes were printed by private bank note companies under contract to the federal government. The overall look of the notes was uniform, but each bank could choose designs from the engraver’s catalog to create a unique national note. The bills were shipped in sheets to the bank, where they were signed by the bank’s president and register, cut and put into circulation.
The greenbacks were lightweight, compact, easily folded and stored. AND they were accepted anywhere in the country.
The Farmers and Drovers Bank of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania was first chartered as a state institution in 1835. Known as a conservatively managed, dependable financial fixture of the Waynesburg area, it was granted national bank status in January of 1865, just three months before the fall of the Confederacy.
This greenback, #259/453127, was issued in July of that summer, when the nation was struggling to reestablish its identity. The bill has but one fold and has no pin holes from being pinned to someone’s pocket or tacked on a bankers’ spike. The corners are slightly bent, but all four are complete. The bankers’ signatures are clear and only slightly faded. Someone on Ceylon Lane, Greene County kept this note out of circulation. Either 64 year old John P. Minor, Sr., or his 13 year old namesake, or John Junior‘s parents, Francis and Mary Jane Gwynn Minor, deliberately saved this 3″ by 7″ paper, and it was carefully stored for 50 years before being locked away and forgotten in the F.M. Minor Satchel. That is where I found it, another 96 years later, pressed between the pages of an old ledger. I marvel at its beauty, and at the audacity of this country’s hopes. In the midst of civil unrest and throughout the lurching reconstruction, our federal government successfully led an economic integration by guaranteeing the value of a national currency for this one nation, the United States of America
Click on the images below to learn more about this national bank note.