Early American currency

Early American currency went through several stages of development during the colonial and post-Revolutionary history of the United States. John Hull was authorized by the Massachusetts legislature to make the earliest coinage of the colony, the willow, the oak, and the pine tree shilling in 1652.[1]

1652 pine tree shilling
Obverse and reverse of a three pence note of paper currency issued by the Province of Pennsylvania and printed by Benjamin Franklin and David Hall in 1764.

Since there were few coins minted in the Thirteen Colonies, that later became the United States, foreign coins like the Spanish dollar were widely circulated. Colonial governments, at times, issued paper money to facilitate economic activities. The British Parliament passed Currency Acts in 1751, 1764, and 1773, that regulated colonial paper money.

During the American Revolution, the Colonies became independent states. No longer subject to arbitrarily imposed monetary regulations by the British Parliament, the States began to issue paper money, to pay for military expenses. The Continental Congress also issued paper money during the Revolution—known as 'Continental currency'—in order to fund the war effort. Both State and Continental currency depreciated rapidly becoming, in effect, worthless by the end of the war. This depreciation was caused by the government, stemming from the printing of large amounts of currency, in their effort to meet the monetary demands of the war. Additionally, British counterfeit gangs contributed further to the decreased value. By its conclusion, only a few counterfeiters had been caught and preemptively hanged, for the crime.


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