What is Continental Currency and what makes it special?: Breaking down the basics of numismatics

Coin World is introducing novices to numismatics one topic at a time
By , Coin World
Published : 06/10/14
Text Size

Continental Currency is the name for the first paper notes issued in the American colonies in the 1770s.

In a 2003 Coin World article, Michele Orzano wrote about Continental Currency, and its roots as a fundraising tool in 1775 for the forthcoming Revolutionary War. 

Orzano wrote, “The notes were ‘denominated in dollars and backed by the “anticipation” of future tax revenues, with no backing in silver or gold. They could be redeemed only upon the independence of the colonies,’ according to a history of currency posted on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.”

The notes, which ranged in denomination from one-sixth of a dollar to $80, were signed by hand by some of the same men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution. 

The most notable Continental Currency issue, Orzano quotes Eric P. Newman as writing in his book The Early Paper Money of America, is the Feb. 17, 1776, issue. 

Orzano writes:

In a November 1983 article in the American Numismatic Association's The Numismatist, Newman suggests that new evidence pointed to Benjamin Franklin as the designer of the 13-link chain design found on the Feb. 17, 1776, notes. Each of the rings carries the name of one of the 13 original Colonies. The legend reads american congress we are one. The emblem is the same as that used on Fugio cents of 1787.

Newman writes that Franklin's creation of the 13-link chain design and the motto "before his departure for France in November 1776 is corroborated by the notations and drawings" in Franklin's own handwriting.

According to Newman's research, the sundial device and the mottoes “Fugio" and "Mind Your Business," coupled with Franklin's Poor Richard philosophy, seems to point to the fact that 'it seems virtually impossible for Franklin as the designer of the back of the fractional currency not to have participated in the simultaneous design of the face.

In addition, Franklin's genius can be seen in the use of his invention of nature printing. Franklin devised a system that used impressions of genuine leaves to make a plate. The intricate design of the veins in the leaves made the designs difficult to copy by counterfeiters.

You are signed in as:null
No comments yet