History of Michigan Paper Money
Posted on 2/16/2016
During the 19th Century, the use of obsolete and scrip notes in the United States was at its peak. Every state and territory had hundreds of different notes that were issued by private companies or cities. These banknotes supplied the demand for cash that an early federal government couldn’t meet. Often adorned with extravagant illustrations, the banknotes personified the characteristics of the cities they came from. Today, I’ll discuss the banknotes used throughout the history of my home state of Michigan.
Michigan was admitted into the Union in 1837. Before that, it was a territory of the United States from 1805-1836, ruled by governors and judges. The territorial capital of Michigan was Detroit. Detroit was then, and still remains today, the most populous city in Michigan. Detroit had countless examples of private banks and businesses printing currency for its relatively large population. One example of this was the Detroit City Bank. This bank was created in 1837 in good faith with $200,000 in capital. However the bank closed only two years later with all the money put in it by its stockholders lost. Below are some pictures of currency from this bank.
The Michigan Insurance Company was another large bank operating in Detroit. Signifying the often cloudy legal territory many of these banks operated in, this corporation never offered insurance and merely acted as a bank without an official charter. Created in 1834, the bank operated without a charter for fifteen years before finally getting one. Once they gained a charter, they renamed themselves the Michigan Insurance Bank. Below are examples of their currency before and after the change.
Later, during the Great Depression, there were many cities that became increasingly strapped for cash and were forced to pay their employees in scrip. These notes were printed on whatever the cities had on hand, such as paper, cardboard, or even leather. Although this type of currency had become nearly extinct due to the creation of the Federal Reserve note, desperate times called for desperate measures. Detroit was one of those cities that issued what is now called depression scrip. Below are some examples of this currency.
Throughout all of Michigan, there are many examples of private businesses issuing scrip that was only good in their store. These businesses dealt in a wide variety of goods such as coal, livestock, or just normal grocery items. These scrip notes went out of fashion at the beginning of the 20th Century as the federal government took legal control over printing all currency. Below are some examples of private scrip from cities in Michigan.
College currency was printed and used in business colleges throughout Michigan in order to train students in dealing with large amounts of currency. They would use the notes to create mock ledgers and deposit them into bank accounts at their college. This practice was not specific to just Michigan, but occurred across the entire nation. For more information on college currency you can read my previous article here. Below are examples of college currency in Michigan.
This article only scratches the surface of the vast history of Michigan currency. There are countless other examples of obsolete and scrip notes produced in Michigan and it can be quite a challenge to collect them all. If you happen to be from Michigan, or just have an affinity for obsolete bank notes, why not try starting a collection based around the Wolverine State?
- Lee, Dr. Wallace G. (2007). Michigan Obsolete & Scrip Notes of the 19th Century. Krause Publications.
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