Notes of a Nation
American Colonial and Continental Currency in Rago’s June 8 Coins + Currency Auction
6 June 2018
To collect American Colonial and Continental currency is to own an artifact of our nation’s founding – and a great way to be a caretaker of American history.
While metal coins existed and circulated within the American colonies, the majority of these were either Spanish or Portuguese. Colonial currency was authorized by the British government in the mid-1700s to compensate for the lack of copper and other coin metals available within the colonies for minting. The colonies began to print paper money, known as Bills of Credit. Bills of Credit had a flat rate of trade and could be exchanged for a set amount of gold or silver. They were used as fair trade for fur, tobacco, and commodities from the British government.
At the onset of the American Revolution, with metal coinage still extremely scarce and the debt load of the burgeoning nation growing exponentially, the Revolutionary government turned to the production of another form of paper money known as Continental currency, or Continentals. Continental currency was denominated in dollars from $1⁄6 to $80, including many odd denominations in between. During the Revolution, Congress issued $241,552,780 in Continental currency.
This new currency, though an effective temporary means of funding the war effort, suffered from rampant inflation. It was not backed by commodities. Its production was not controlled, so the former colonies continued to create their own Bills of Credit as they saw fit.
Lastly, the British government promoted this inflation by circulating counterfeit notes.
Colonial and Continental currencies are highly collectible in the modern market. Many of the Continentals are in demand for striking engravings that epitomize the colonists’ pride in their land, their labor and the values they held dear.
Several Continentals bear the signatures of prominent members of society, some of whom are also signers of the Declaration of Independence.