Sutler Scrip

Posted on 1/22/2013

Oxford Dictionary: “Sutler: a person who followed an army and sold provisions to the soldiers. Origin: late 16th century from obsolete Dutch soeteler, from soetelen ‘perform mean duties’”1

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
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The Sutler (sometimes spelled suttler, subtler, shuttler, or sutleler) was a civilian, who carried no rank, who had goods available to purchase that the quartermaster did not already provide the troops. These goods were often food, writing supplies, candies, soda, and other luxuries such as dominoes, playing cards and cologne. In the United States the Sulter was used from the Revolutionary War throughout the Civil War. However, they have been around since at least 1590 which was the first recorded instance of the term. There are brief references to sutler’s as far back to the Roman Empire. William Shakespeare even mentions a sutler in his play Henry V.

The Confederate Sutler wasn’t as successful as his Union counterpart due to inflation and supplies being more scarce in the south than in the north.

In 1866 Congress abolished the office of Sutler and started the Post Trader. The Post Trader sold everything that the Sutler sold. However, Congress forgot to appropriate any funds to purchase the supplies needed to run the store.

The Sutler had complete control of the design, size, and type of paper used for their scrip. The printers used two styles of printing scrip: typeset or engraved – usually on light porous paper. Often times the printer would reuse the same vignette and/or design for several denominations and for different Sutler’s just changing names and divisions. For the most part the scrip looked plain in comparison to other circulating merchant scrip of that era with a few exceptions. It should be noted that one was only allowed to redeem the scrip at the Sutler’s store, and they were not redeemable at other stores.

According to Sutler Paper Money2 the majority of all Sutler Scrip has a rarity value of 7 (with 5 or less known). This will change over time as more scrip is found and/or comes out of the woodwork. It is seldom seen in auctions currently, but once it does it always peaks interest among notaphilists, numismatics, and Civil War enthusiasts alike. As of right now there are 26 states with known Sutler scrip along with the US Army, and the CS Army. While the interest level of collecting Sutler scrip did increase right around the time of the hundred year anniversary of the Civil War it can be assumed that that interest level will resurface again, in time.

For further information also see Lord’s3 book and Curto’s pamphlet4 which can be found in an ANA reprint as well.

1"Sutler." Definition of. Oxford Dictionary, n.d. Web. 02 Jan. 2013.
2Keller, Kenneth. Sutler Paper Money. Rockford, IL: World Exonumia, 1994. Print.
3Lord, Francis A. Civil War Sutlers and Their Wares. New York: T. Yoseloff, 1969. Print.
4Curto, James J. “Sutlers And Their Tokens: 1861-1866.” American Numismatist Association 59.8 (1946): 899-938. Print.

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