College Currency in 19th Century America

In an effort to better educate college students and prepare them for the real world of business, universities throughout the United States printed their own money for students to work with.

As the American economy advanced throughout the 19th Century, there was a need to have an educated workforce with skills in the business world. Booming businesses needed trained workers such as accountants who could work with (and be trusted with) large amounts of money. This was obviously in the days before computers, electronic bank accounts and such, meaning that every bill had to be hand counted and notated down in a ledger. An effective way of teaching people the proper techniques in handling money was by actually giving them money to work with. Thus the world of college currency was born.

Business colleges across the United States began designing and printing their own currency for students to work with during the mid to late 19th Century stretching into the early 20th Century. Students were entrusted with this currency as if it were actual money with real value. When given the currency for assignments, the students would count it, write it down in their ledger, deposit it in the school bank and make sure all the documentation was correct. There were a wide variety of other tasks students were given, all pertaining to business education. Some of them being the receiving of money on deposit, paying out same, granting loans, and making discounts on good endorsed and collateral securities, receiving notes for collection, making exchanges between each other, issuing their own notes, transferring stock on their books and declaring dividends at specific periods.1 If students performed their tasks well, they were given special “Rewards of Merit” which were often beautifully designed certificates honoring the students’ achievements. Oftentimes the rewards would come with a small cash value. The point of this was to prepare the students for the real world of business they would encounter and to ensure the growing US economy would have a competent army of accounts and businessmen to guide the country to success.

Like the obsolete bank notes of the same time, college currency came in countless designs and from numerous different areas. Some can be quite rare, while others are very common. People often collect them if they have a connection to their alma mater or hometowns, giving them a collectible piece of history from their childhood. Today, college currency is rarely used in schools as technology has advanced to the point where they became unnecessary. Whatever currency may be used in classes today are most likely generic scrip bought from a mass producer. While they may be obsolete today, there is no doubt that they served a vital part of business education during an important period in our nation’s history.

Below are some examples of college currency and rewards of merit. If you would like to learn more about their history and see many examples of them, consider picking up the book College Currency: Money for Business Training by Herb and Martha Schingoethe.

Eastman College Bank Currency
Soule College Currency
Worthington Business College Currency
Eastman National Business College Currency
Reward of Merit College Currency
Reward of Merit College Currency

1. Schingoethe, Herb and Martha College Currency: Money for Business Training (BNR Press), 9-14.

PMG is an independent member of the Certified Collectibles Group (CCG).


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