A Project of the Robert H. Gore, Jr. Numismatic Endowment
University of Notre Dame,Department of Special Collections
by Louis Jordan

Frequently Asked Questions about Colonial Currency

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Continental Currency

There were about 20-30 individuals signing notes for each emission, therefore several notes have different signers. Newman has compiled a list of several hundred signers so there is a place to verify the reading of each signature.

On the back of most Continental Currency issues is a leaf design. This is called a nature print. The technique was first used by Benjamin Franklin. An impression of a real leaf was made in plaster which was then used to make a metal mould. The idea was that no two leaves were alike - so this would deter counterfeiters. David Hall had worked under Franklin and in the mid 1760's took over the printing shop with William Sellers. They printed notes for Pennsylvania as well as all of the issues of Continental Currency for the national government during the Revolutionary War.

The notes are denominated in Spanish milled dollars, this is a piece of eight (that is a Spanish eight reales). It is not a decimal unit as is our dollar but rather equal to a certain number of shillings. In several states the Spanish dollar was equal to 6 shillings (others such as Pennsylvania used 7s6d or 8s as in New York). Coppers often circulated at 18 to the shilling so a Spanish dollar was equal to 108 coppers. Massachusetts actually minted cents which were suppose to circulate at 100 to the Spanish Dollar but actually circulated at 108 to the dollar! For more information see the short essay on the Value of Money in Colonial America (one of the Explanatory essays at the bottom of our colonial currency index page https://coins.nd.edu/ColCurrency/CurrencyIntros/IntroValue.html).

Also see the essay on Devaluation, the second part is about the devaluation of Continental Currency. (https://coins.nd.edu/ColCurrency/CurrencyIntros/IntroDevaluation.html). The Continental Congress printed many millions of dollars of currency without ever having the funds to back them. This was one of the ways they financed the Revolutionary War. Of course, inflation set in and the notes were devalued. By 1780 forty dollars in Continental paper traded for one Spanish milled dollar coin. By 1781 in Virginia to took $1000 paper dollars to get one dollar in coin. This was the origin of the phrase "As worthless as a Continental."

To see a Spanish Milled dollars go to our Colonial Coin site and click into the Spanish section (https://coins.nd.edu/ColCoin/ColCoinText/Sp-milled.5.html)