20 July 2019

Emergency Currency - John Cowlin

We know of John’s enthusiasm for the pre-stamp period of postal history - he has previously given us displays (e.g. Postcards 1899 to 1945 and Postal History 1759 to 1815 which included some counterfeit assignats (banknotes)) and he has had a number of articles published in our Journal (including the Seven Year’s War 1756-1763; Copenhagen Campaign 1807; Peninsular War 1808-1814; Napoleonic Wars 1803-18 & French Revolutionary Wars 1789-1795; A Nelson letter of 1804 and many more).  However, this was a display with a difference - not so much postal history but what may be classed as ephemera as it dealt with banknotes or monetary notes issued during wars or other emergencies.  This is another example of the type of display we have not seen before and was certainly an afternoon of history and revelations in terms of material, the likes of which many of us had never seen before - a huge thank you to John for showing us such items, which could be classed as part one of a display of similar material up to WW2.  This display went from the late 17th Century to the end of the 19th Century.

His earliest item was a monetary note, a Jøgen Thor Møhlen banknote from Norway 1695-96.  Then we moved on to the French Revolutionary period with a variety of assignats which was paper money issued by the Constituent Assembly in France from 1789 to 1796, during the French Revolution to address imminent bankruptcy. They were backed by the value of properties formerly held by the Catholic Church which had been confiscated in 1789, and the crown lands which had been taken over by the nation the same year.  There were many variations and values including livres, sols and francs of different monetary values and different years, some issued locally and it also included counterfeit notes, as coins had all but disappeared.  The next set of notes covered the Napoleonic period (1806-1816) with counterfeit Austrian (1806) and Russian (1810) banknotes, Scotland Napoleonic prisoner money (£1 and 5 Livres notes), Danish four and twelve schilling banknotes (1807-14) and Siege of Erfurt money zwölf groschen.

We then headed over the pond to the United States of America with 4, 9, 12½ & 25 cent banknotes of the Corporation City of New York (1812-14); small change bills for New York City and State of New York, Corporation City of New Jersey six cents bill (1814-16) and a York and Jersey steamboat ferry company four cent bill.  John also showed a £200 banknote from Old Newgate Prison (1794) - the Colony of Connecticut converted former mining tunnels into a prison, naming it after London's Newgate Prison.  The first prisoner for whom the state has surviving documentation, John Hinson, was committed for burglary in 1773 (and escaped in 1774).  In 1790 it became a state prison, the first such in America with most of the above-ground facilities built between then and 1802.

It was then back to Europe with early 19th century notes, including playing card currency, from Spain Norway and Denmark.  There were also Isle of Man 1/- and 2/6d banknotes (1814-16).  We had banknotes from the Italian War of Independence (1848-49) and the Hungarian Revolution with emergency currency notes (five and ten gulden) issued by the Austrian Empire and 8, 5 and 10 Pengo Krajezar notes issued during the siege of Komarom.

Back across the Atlantic again, this time the American Civil War (1861-65) with a Confederate pay voucher, Lynchburg, Virginia 50, 60 & 75 cents banknotes, a Mississippi 1862 cotton pledged banknotes for $2 50 cents and a bounty receipt for four Union volunteers New York 7th September 1864.  There was a variety of Sutlers paper scrips - a Sutler: was a person who followed an army and sold provisions to the soldiers; they were a civilian, who carried no rank, who had goods available to purchase that the quartermaster did not already provide the troops. These goods were often food, writing supplies, candies, soda, and other luxuries such as dominoes, playing cards and cologne.  In the States a Confederate Sutler wasn’t as successful as his Union counterpart due to inflation and supplies being scarcer in the south than in the north.  The Sutler had complete control of the design, size, and type of paper used for their scrip.  John showed a variety of such scrips from a many different army units and a variety of values - to name just a few examples: 4th Rhode Island Volunteers $2 Sutler scrip; Ohio 188th Volunteers Infantry $2.50 Sutler scrip; and Pennsylvania 26th Volunteers two cent Sutler scrip.  He also showed from the State of Indiana, Harrison County a voucher for $3.25 for one year service suppressing the Southern Rebellion.

Pennsylvania. J.L. Gibson Sutler, 26th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers

Five Cents Sutler scrip

We then moved on to a miscellany of different notes from several different countries - 3 & 4 Pesos notes from the Paraguayan War, also known as the War of the Triple Alliance, which was a South American war (1864-1870) between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance of Argentina, the Empire of Brazil and Uruguay; a Russian Navy Ministry coupon; Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek 1872 £1 banknote and 5/- banknotes from 1867 and 1869; Colonial Bank of Natal 1862 £1 banknote and a Barry & Nephews 1868 £5 banknote.  Further South African currency notes, all with the prefix “Good for” - Orange Free State 1874 One Shilling, Harrismith 1871 Five Shilling and a Boshof 1868 Five Shilling note, also a Montagu Bank £5 banknote.

Also displayed were two notes from the Sudan connected with the Siege of Khartoum (1884-85) - a 100 Piastre with General Gordon’s hand signature and a 2,500 Piastre with a printed signature of Gordon. Lastly to the Caribbean and Cuba with the Spanish-American War of 1898 and a $2 Sulter voucher.

All-in-all this was a fantastic display with a world tour through the story of emergency currency and banknotes.  A huge “thank you” to John Cowlin for coming all the way from Somerset to provide us with this wonderful display.

© Forces Postal History Society 2020