Micronations (Part I)
Posted on 9/22/2015
While it’s easy to forget today, the notion of nation states with a defined border and citizenry is a relatively new concept, becoming the norm only within the last hundred or so years. Still, even today it is disputed as to what qualities make an entity a state. This disagreement is most visibly on display when considering the subject of so-called “micronations.” Micronations are entities, usually very small (hence the name), that claim to be a nation or state, but lack any international recognition or legitimacy. These micronations are usually created by an individual or a small group who wish to rule over their own land without interference from other states. They often strive for legitimacy, creating their own flags, medals, passports and yes, even banknotes. Today, I’ll show you a few examples of the banknotes of micronations in the United States and give insight on their (often humorous) background.
The Empire of Norton I
Joshua Norton was an interesting, possibly insane, gentleman born in England in 1818. After inheriting a substantial sum from his father he immigrated to San Francisco in 1849 on his steamboat called Hurolthrumbo. He tried living as a businessman before he lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice. He shied away from the public spotlight until 1859 when he emerged proclaiming himself as Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He called for the dissolution of Congress and, with unexpected foresight, a League of Nations and a suspension bridge connecting Oakland to San Francisco. Though technically spouting seditious acts, the people of San Francisco found Norton’s antics humorous and enjoyed his presence. The San Francisco Bulletin actually printed the declaration of his empire, albeit for humorous effect. People even protested when he was arrested and held for involuntary treatment due to the police believing he had a mental disorder. Norton was released with an apology given to him by the chief of police. Norton eventually started printing his own currency (shown below) to increase his legitimacy. Surprisingly enough, many businesses he frequented accepted them as payment, showing the fondness the people shared for him. Norton’s twenty-one year rule of the United States ended abruptly in 1880 when he collapsed on a street corner and died. His funeral was attended by over 30,000 people in what was probably one of the strangest traffic jams in US history.
The Republic of Molossia
Continuing the trend of rebellious micronations within the United States is the Republic of Molossia founded by “His Excellency” Kevin Baugh in 1999. Consisting solely of his 1.3 acre property in Dayton, Nevada, Molossia has been struggling to gain legitimacy since its inception. Molossia has tried creating diplomatic relationships with other micronations, even trying to set up a “League of Micronations,” but to no avail. While there have been other “provinces” of Molossia in Pennsylvania and California, their relationship to the main province in Dayton has often been unclear. Molossia boasts an impressive navy of four 13-by-3-foot inflatable boats, making up for its lack of army or air force. Molossia’s main export is handcrafted soaps which can be bought on the official website of the country.
One can also buy the official currency of Molossia, provided Herman the Banker (pictured below) is in a giving mood. The Valora, which is pegged to (and I swear I’m not making this up) the value of Pillsbury Cookie Dough, with three Valora equaling one tube of cookie dough. In all seriousness, Molossia really was just a childhood fantasy of Baugh’s that he happened to take to the next level and probably a few more levels after that.
Micronations are rarely more than a nuisance for legitimate states and thus are looked at as a curiosity to most people. They are mostly the manifestation of someone who wishes to rule themselves without any interference. As seen in the two examples, the micronations try different methods of seeking legitimacy, with printing banknotes being the most common. Generally the most identifiable thing about a nation is its currency, thus having one brings a micronation one tiny step closer to legitimacy.
In the next part of this two part series, I will discuss the many micronations outside the United States—so stay tuned!
PMG is an independent member of the Certified Collectibles Group (CCG).