Paper Money

Patriotic printers: Paul Revere, silversmith and 'Midnight Rider'

This is the second-to-last article taken from the cover feature in the November 2015 issue of Coin World Monthly:

Paul Revere, 1735 to 1818

After Franklin, the most famous printer of paper money was silversmith, engraver and patriot Paul Revere.

A member of the Sons of Liberty, Revere agitated for freedom, participated in the Boston Tea Party and served as an officer in the state militia.

“On the Eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five,” poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, Revere made his famous midnight ride “through every Middlesex village and farm, for the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

The ensuing skirmish set in motion a series of events that saw the patriot toiling over a printing press of his own construction the night of June 3, printing money badly needed to pay soldiers.

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Between the battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, the Provisional Congress of Massachusetts raised an army and authorized the printing of £25,998 to pay it. The emission, known as soldiers’ notes, was the colony’s first currency in 25 years.

Revere, who worked for the Colony as a courier, was probably picked for the printing job because he had just finished printing related fiscal documents for the provisional Congress.

Badly in need of money, the government authorized the issuance of £100,000 in 6 percent government securities on May 3, 1775.

Revere engraved a printing plate, made a press and printed the documents.

On May 20, the government authorized the issuance of bills to provide advance pay to soldiers.

“So urgent was the demand for this money,” E.H. Goss wrote in his 1891 biography, The Life of Colonel Paul Revere, “that a vote was passed June 3, ordering Capt. Isaac Stone to apply to Mr. Revere and desire him to ‘attend to the business of stamping the notes for the soldiers, all the ensuing night, and to finish them with the greatest dispatch possible;’ and Capt. Bragdon and Col. Thompson were appointed a committee to attend Mr. Revere night and day alternately, until all the notes were finished. A messenger was also sent to Major [Abraham] Fuller asking him to countersign them as fast as prepared.”

Milled copper needed to make copper printing plates was scarce in the colonies, and Revere squeezed as much use out of each piece as he could.

The soldiers’ notes were printed on the unused sides of older copper printing plates. The plate used to print sheets of 18-, 12-, and 10-shilling notes was first used to print an icon of the Revolution, Revere’s famous 1770 engraving of the Boston Massacre.

Revere engraved and printed several Massachusetts bills between 1775 and 1779 and a lone New Hampshire issue in 1775. 

After the war, he made a stab at being named the first director of the United States Mint, but his politics — he was a Federalist at a time when Democrats held sway — apparently scotched that effort.

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