Coins & Currency in Colonial America

10. The Birth of American Paper Money (1690 – 1750)

While the ancient Egyptians invented paper and the Chinese invented paper money, it was in America that the notion caught on.  Massachusetts has the distinction of being the first issuer of paper currency in the New World, authorizing £7,000 in bills to provide for a military expedition attempting to capture Quebec from the French in 1690.  Although the mission failed, their creative finance scheme succeeded, and soon thereafter paper money was also being issued in Connecticut (1709), New Hampshire (1709), New Jersey (1709), New York (1709), Rhode Island (1710) and South Carolina (1703).


Mass., Counterfeit 40 Shilling Note, 1708

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - that is unless you "imitate" paper money. As soon as the first paper notes were peeled off the presses in Boston, counterfeiters began their crooked work. This early example of 1708 was identified as such during its circulating life, and was inscribed "Counter feit" amongst the obviously forged signatures of the colony's committee members.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1708
Size: 5.5" x 4"
Origin: American Colonies/Mass.

Massachusetts, Parchment 1 Penny Note, 1722

In an attempt to prevent the "Rosa Americana" coins from being introduced into circulation in New England, Massachusetts issued parchment notes. Printed in three denominations - one-penny, two-penny and three-penny - each tiny note was a different shape.

Metal: Parchment
Date: 1722
Size: 1.75" x 1.75"
Origin: American Colonies/Mass.

New York, 16 "Lyon Dollars" Note, 1709

This New York indented bill of 1709 is the first piece of American paper money to be denominated in a specific coin - 16 Lyon Dollars.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1709
Size: 6" x 4"
Origin: American Colonies/NY

North Carolina, 40 Shilling Note, 1729

North Carolina had no printers working in the colony as of 1729, so their first official issue of paper money was completely hand written. The bisected scrolling at the top of this 40-shilling note identifies it as an "indented bill." Also included is a paper seal as a mark of authenticity.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1729
Size: 5.25" x 4.25"
Origin: American Colonies/NC

© 2006 The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation