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Mr. Jesse Wood, a retired bank vice president in Jacksonville, recently allowed me to photograph his collection of fractional currency. Authorized by President Abraham Lincoln on July 17, 1862, the notes (called "shinplasters") were used to buy postage stamps and were used as money. Customers and merchants thronged to post offices to buy stamps to use as money when gold, silver, and copper coins all but disappeared just before the Civil War. Daily stamps sales at the New York City post office jumped from $3,000 to a whopping $20,000. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase suggested the fractional currency idea to Lincoln. Rather than issue more stamps to cover the huge demand for exchange notes, the government printed the fractional notes, which were, in fact, federal promissory notes. The fractional notes were controversial, but Congress legalized them on March 3, 1863, including Lincoln's "illegal" earlier notes. Five issues of fractional currency were printed, with the first dated August 21, 1862 and the last dated February 26, 1874. The first notes carried the imprint "postage currency" and later issues were called "fractional currency." Some of you may be old enough to remember seeing ads that stated "we do not accept postage stamps." For many years some merchants continued to accept postage stamps until the government discontinued the fractional currency and took the remaining fractional units out of circulation; however, the notion of using stamps as money was by then deeply ingrained as a habit. By the way, shinplasters were small -- about half the size of a regular paper dollar bill. To see an extensive collection of shinplasters, go to my photo blogger. (Al Harris Photo)


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