Coins & Currency in Colonial America

15. The Heyday of Colonial Paper Money (1750 – 1783)

Although paper money was first issued in America in the 1690s, it really didn’t reach its prime until the third quarter of the 18th century.  Hundreds of different issues were printed and circulated in absolutely huge quantities.  However, since a paper note had no intrinsic value, it was always valued less than its equivalent amount in gold or silver coin.  Many pieces bear fascinating images, legends, and historical associations while others are striking exhibitions of the engraver’s skill or unique expressions bordering on folk art.

Massachusetts, Three Shilling Note, 1775

Clearly emblematic of the Revolution, this three-shilling note was engraved and printed by none other than Paul Revere. On later versions of Massachusetts' paper money using this design, the wording on the soldier's scroll was changed from MAGNA CHARTA to INDEPENDENCE, reflecting the popular shift in sentiment.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1775
Size: 3.625" x 3"
Origin: American Colonies/Mass.

New Jersey, Three Pound Note, 1776

While the devices and text on this 1776 three-pound note are typical for New Jersey notes, the brilliant red and blue inks used to print its obverse designate it as the most thoroughly colorful piece of paper money from the Revolutionary period.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1776
Size: 2.375" x 4.5"
Origin: American Colonies/NJ

New York, 1 Shilling "Water Works" Note, 1774

Known by collectors as the "New York Water Works" note, this issue represents the first paper money issued by an American city. The reverse scene is of a proposed steam-operated water pump, which was never fully implemented.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1771
Size: 2.25" x 3.25"
Origin: American Colonies/NY

Pennsylvania, 15-shilling Note, 1756

This Pennsylvania 15-shilling note of New Years Day 1756 was produced by Benjamin Franklin and his business partner David Hall. The naturalistic sprig on the reverse was printed using a secret, anti-counterfeiting process invented by Franklin. Another such device is the blue thread incorporated throughout the paper.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1756
Size: 3.5" x 3"
Origin: American Colonies/PA

South Carolina, 50 Dollar Note, 1779

South Carolina had a tradition of producing paper money printed from elaborately engraved copper plates. Thomas Coram, a noted Charleston engraver, signed and dated the reverse below the image of Atlas shouldering a boulder.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1779
Size: 3" x 5"
Origin: American Colonies/SC

Virginia, 2 Pound Note, 1762

Signed by Peyton Randolph and Robert Carter Nicholas, this Virginia £2 note of April 7, 1762, was printed in Williamsburg, probably by William Hunter.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1762
Size: 2.5" x 3.5"
Origin: American Colonies/VA


© 2006 The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation