From the viewpoint of federal, Confederate, and temporary money
produced during the Civil War, America has seen nothing like it before
or since. The war had been envisioned by the Union as an easy win, and
in April 1861 President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for volunteers
to serve for 90 days. By December 1861, both sides had scored
victories, and no one was sure who would win.
Citizens began to hoard gold coins, which disappeared from
circulation by January 1862, followed by silver coins in the late
spring, and copper-nickel cents by the second week of July. For the
first time in history, America had no federal coins in circulation!
In July the Treasury Department decreed that ordinary postage stamps
were legal tender for many transactions. Then arose many different
privately issued monetary substitutes.
John Gault patented a brass frame encasement with a clear mica front
behind which postage stamps of values from 1 cent to 90 cents could be
placed. These circulated for face value.
Postage stamps put in small printed envelopes also circulated as
money, as did small-denomination scrip notes issued by merchants,
banks, towns, and others.
The Treasury Department issued postage currency with stamp designs,
followed by fractional currency. Millions of bronze cent-sized tokens
were issued by merchants and other entities, to the extent of
thousands of versions.
Among larger currency, federal demand notes in 1861 (redeemable in
gold or silver coins before hoarding began), legal tender notes in
1862 (not redeemable in coins), and national bank notes in 1863
(likewise not redeemable) were produced in large quantities.
State-chartered banks issued millions of dollars in their own notes.
In the South, the Confederate States of America started by
commissioning the National Bank Note Co. in New York City to print its
first paper currency — in March 1861 before the war began. Values of
$50, $100, $500, and $1,000 were made. It was thought, by some, that
the CSA and Union would co-exist on friendly terms and become trading
partners. That didn’t happen, of course.
Later in 1861, to 1864, the CSA had printers in the South print
countless bills in denominations from $1 to $100.
We must not forget federal coins from cents to $20 double eagles.
Although no reliable count can ever be made of the number of different
varieties that were made of minted and printed money during the Civil
War, certainly it is on the far side of 10,000.