During the 19th century a large number of enterprises issued paper
money as well as scrip. Some are quite familiar, including banks,
railroads, state and local governments, canal companies, and even the
proverbial “butcher, baker and candlestick maker.”
In addition, a number of natural resource companies involved in
coal, iron and copper mining issued notes, often as part of a system
where scrip was paid to employees who then were able to purchase
life’s necessities with it at a company store. The scrip was often
good only at the company store. The temptation to charge high prices
at these captive market outlets was always present.
One of the rarer categories of natural resource companies was that
composed of companies mining salt. Salt is a basic element in our diet
and serves as a food preservative. It even keeps us (for the most
part) on the road during those winter ice storms. Thanks to
substantial demand and significant available supplies, salt mining is
still relatively widespread in the Midwest.
I am aware of two companies in Ohio that have a stated connection
to salt: the Erie Salt Co. of Richmond, and the Syracuse Coal &
Salt Co. of Syracuse.
The first mention of the Erie Salt Co. was in the spring of 1836
when it was listed in a newspaper story as having been chartered by
the state legislature during the previous session. There is no further
mention of the company, its bank or its fate — another of the
mysteries that seem to inhabit obsolete paper money. Most notes of
this company seen to date are only partially issued or are unissued
remainders, and my suspicion is that the enterprise may have never
been in operation.
The Syracuse Coal & Salt Co. of Syracuse, Ohio, is first
mentioned in the Annual Report of the State Inspector of Mines for
Ohio in 1874. A passing reference in an 1897 Meigs County newspaper
suggests that the company could have been in operation as early as the
late 1850s. The notes themselves are dated 1874.
The area around Syracuse was noted for both its coal and salt
resources and this company apparently had interests in both areas. The
note was clearly intended to be used at the company store as it was
payable to the bearer “in such merchandise as you may have when
presented at usual retail prices.”
The notes of the Erie Salt Co. are somewhat scarce while the notes
of the Syracuse Coal & Salt Co. are considerably rarer.
Wendell Wolka has been a paper money collector and educator for
more than 40 years. If you have questions or suggestions, you can
reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at
Box 1211, Greenwood, IN 46142. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope
if a written response is required.