Paper Money

Texas exhibit explores early money

An exhibit in Galveston, Texas, explores the history of early money in the Lone Star state.

The exhibit “On the Run: Currency, Credit and Capitals of the Republic of Texas” details the fascinating financial history of when Texas was its own independent nation. 

The display, guest curated by James P. Bevill, author of the award-winning 2009 book The Paper Republic, includes 106 money-related documents from the Republic of Texas era (1836 to 1846) and coins, paper money and documents related to the earlier period under Spanish and Mexican rule (1535 to 1835). 

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The exhibit includes eight wall cases displaying the evolving paper money of the Republic, while three more cases feature artifacts from leaders and participants in the struggle for freedom.

Coins are on display at the center of the exhibit, which opened at the Rosenberg Library Museum in Galveston on Jan. 30 and continues through Sept. 30. The exhibit was previously displayed at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the home of the Dallas Historical Society, and the Texas Capitol Visitors Center in Austin. 

“If you take the financial obligations of the republic and put them in date order, you’ll see how Texas came to be,” Bevill told the Galveston County Daily News.

The rich Spanish cultural heritage of Texas is reflected in the earliest money used by the soldiers who manned the mission outposts in the mid-1600s. 

The last Spanish kings who reigned over Texas are brought back to life through their portraits that graced the coins used in commerce during the colonial period from 1535 to 1835. These include a dozen pieces of “hammered money” — crude silver coins that widely circulated in colonial Texas. Gold “doubloons” and “pieces of eight,” paper pesos and the earliest paper money issues used in San Antonio de Béxar and DeWitt’s Colony on the River Guadalupe are also exhibited.

Educational content

The first Republic of Texas paper currency, called “Star Money,” was issued from the City of Houston in 1837 and 1838. 

This currency was withdrawn a year later when it was replaced by an intricate system of engraved notes, bearing the signature of President Samuel Houston or Mirabeau Lamar — depending on who was in office at the time.

The location of the seat of government was constantly changing in the Republic of Texas, resulting in a stream of treasury issues and paper currency from different cities. Visitors to “On the Run” can see the location of the Texas capital move, from San Felipe de Austin, to Washington-on-the-Brazos, Harrisburg, Galveston, Velasco (now Freeport), Columbia (now West Columbia), Houston, Austin, then again Houston, Washington-on-the-Brazos, and Austin.

Rarities abound

Rarities abound — from the first Texas treasury warrants, dated Nov. 28, 1835, at Gonzales, to a payment for the release of prisoners from the Mier Expedition on the last day of existence for the Republic of Texas, Feb. 19, 1846. 

The exhibit is broadly inclusive. A complete collection of all Republic of Texas issues is on display, including all examples of the extremely rare fractional exchequer bills, along with error notes, military pay certificates and naval pay certificates. Three exhibit cases are dedicated to Texas military icons Col. William Barret Travis, Commodore Edwin W. Moore, and James W. Fannin. 

In all, about 189 artifacts were contributed by Bevill and many private Texas collectors, as well as pieces from the University of Houston – Special Collections Library, the American Numismatic Association Money Museum, Durham Western Heritage Museum, and Rosenberg Library.

The exhibit combines numismatic items with other artifacts of Texas history to provide museum patrons with deeper insight into the Republic of Texas. 

These artifacts include:

??Col. Travis’ “Victory or Death” letter, a rare original printed broadside of Col. William Barret Travis’ desperate plea from the Alamo.

??The chapeau, or dress hat, short sword, pocket watch, sword belt and a daguerreotype of Commodore Moore, who commanded the Texas Navy from 1839 to 1843. 

??Fannin’s original appointment as a confidential agent to form a consultation of all of Texas, along with a receipt for cannonballs signed by Fannin and a knife recovered at Goliad in an archaeological dig. 

Admission to “On the Run” and all other exhibits at the Rosenberg Library is free.

The Rosenberg Library Museum is located inside the historic Rosenberg Library at 2310 Sealy St. in Galveston. 

A self-guided audio tour on the artifacts is available at the museum through any smartphone with a QR code scanner.

For more details, visit the library website

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