Postage Stamps as Ersatz Currency

John Hartwell

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Aug 27, 2011
Location
Central Massachusetts
In the "Meet and Greet" forum, we have had a question regarding the shortage of coinage in the North during the Civil War. It's a subject that some others might find of interest; so that it doesn't get "lost," I thought I'd start a thread by repeating my response (while acknowledging that quoting yourself is notoriously bad form):

"The currency problem began late in 1861, when banks stopped exchanging greenbacks for gold. People began hoarding coins because they feared paper currency would soon be worthless. There were all kinds of stop-gap measures used, including the printing of paper fractional-currency in denominations as low as five cents. It got to the point in July, 1862, where Congress passed a law permitting the use of unused U. S. postage stamps as currency. Some merchants began to make cardboard, or base-metal disks designed to encase a stamp for use as change:
rsz_ep-lord-&-taylor-hb-170-merged.jpg
"Others went so far as to print envelopes such as the ones below and filled them with the appropriate combinations of stamps, for use as quarters, half-dollars, etc.:
rsz_havana-a.jpg

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"If you are tempted to collect any of these Civil War Stamp Envelopes, by the way, they currently sell for from $500 to close to $10,000 each!"

screenshot-www.genealogybank.com-2017-04-01-07-31-15.png

[Boston Daily Advertiser, July 31, 1862]​
 
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John Hartwell

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Forum Host
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Location
Central Massachusetts
Encased postage stamp currency is also a pricy collectible. This accumulation
44137502_1_x.jpg
was auctioned with a starting bid of $250. It finally sold for $15,000.

Here's an auction for a series of encased stamps by John Gault, who patented the idea in August, 1862. These examples were auctioned for from $450 to $9,000 each.

ETA: Gault's patent was a design, or trademark patent, not a utility patent. Google Patents doesn't index it, but a very poor image can be found HERE.
 
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J. Horace

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Joined
Sep 29, 2015
Location
North Carolina
Encased postage stamp currency is also a pricy collectible. This accumulation
was auctioned with a starting bid of $250. It finally sold for $15,000.

Here's an auction for a series of encased stamps by John Gault, who patented the idea in August, 1862. These examples were auctioned for from $450 to $9,000 each.


Thanks for these pictures!

I have seen a few of these in a box of of family papers and I will begin a new search immediately. I had no idea what they were.
 

John Hartwell

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Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Location
Central Massachusetts
There was also a failed attempt to issue special "non-postal postage stamps" for use as currency:
stampcurrency.png

[New Haven Columbian Register, Aug. 9, 1862]
These were rejected for the same reason paper currency was mistrusted, they had only token value, not being backed up by "hard" money. Real stamps could at least be used for postage.
 
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The hoarding of coinage also led to the issuing of privately minted store tokens by Northern businesses. The token would list the name of the establishment with its denomination, often with its obverse being the same as the United States' coin it copied. Token usage ceased in April 1864, when the U.S. Congress passed the 1864 Coinage Act which made the minting and usage of private tokens for commerce, illegal.
 
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