The Faulkner County Library will display a rare U.S. Fractional Currency Series collection from Sept. 17-29. The display is the result of years of study and effort by Wesley Smith, a dedicated numismatist, whose special interest is in the Fractional Currency of the Civil War era.
The Philadelphia mint began producing coins in 1792, and keeping the coins in circulation was always a challenge. As the war loomed, people began hoarding coinage as fears for the stability of the economy mounted. One building in New York was so overloaded with copper pennies and half pennies that its floor collapsed under the weight of the metal it was supporting.
A number of trial solutions were promoted, including promissory notes, metal tokens and the use of regular postage stamps as change. But wooden nickels, easily broken promissory notes and tokens weren’t popular with the public.
In 1862, General F.E. Spinner, then Treasurer of the United States, ordered that some postage stamps and blank paper on which government securities were normally printed be sent to his office. He cut some of the paper to small uniform sizes and proceeded to paste a few of the stamps in an orderly fashion onto the cut pieces of treasury paper.
Spinner’s models were quickly adopted and in 1862 the first of five separate production issues that would stretch to 1876 entered the marketplace. The 5, 10, 25, and 50-cent denominations of the first issue bore the name “Postage Currency” across the top, but all issues thereafter were stamped, and became known as, “Fractional Currency.”
The small bills, measuring 2 ½ to 5 inches across, and ranging in value from 3 to 50 cents evolved into what have become some of the least known and most beautiful examples of American collectible currency. Relatively scarce, but still affordable due to their lack of exposure, the twenty three distinct designs of fractional notes are equally prized by professional collectors, and by those seeking to present a unique and diminutive gift reflecting a monumental era in American history that included the civil war.
Smith’s collection features rare “postage currency” depicting Generals Grant and Sherman, which were said never to have been circulated.
For more information, contact the library at 501-327-7482, or email Nancy@fcl.org, Facebook and Twitter.