Currency chaos

America's money wasn't always green and presidential. Before the Civil War, each state - even some cities - had its own, customized currency. By the 1830s, some 30,000 kinds of paper money circulated in the United States.

The bills had lots of designs and colors. Vermont's pre-Civil War money was orangey-pink. The hand-printed $1, $2, $3, and $5 bills showed plump little babies playing with stacks of coins. A $50 South Carolina bill had engravings of farmworkers and a slave carting cotton. A $3 bill from Nebraska displayed an ox team and wagon.

The old bills often featured nude portraits. The idea was that flesh is hard to draw, and therefore hard to duplicate. But because there were so many kinds of money, it was hard to spot a fake. By 1865, an estimated one-third of all US paper currency was counterfeit!

It was also confusing. By 1861, the nation's leaders had had enough. Pressed to finance the Civil War, Congress ordered the US Treasury to issue a national paper currency.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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