Coins & Currency in Colonial America

18. Revolutionary Money (1775 – 1783)

When the American Revolution broke out in 1775, our collective monetary system was just one of a myriad of problems we were facing.  Each colony issued its own paper money for use within its borders, and these notes were usually worthless in neighboring colonies.  The problem was solved in the spring of 1775 when the Continental Congress issued currency, followed by a small issue of token dollar coins the next year.  Rapid depreciation during the Revolution led to the expression, “not worth a Continental” – a phrase still used to describe something considered less than worthless.

Continental Dollar, 1776

Of somewhat mysterious origins, these pewter one-dollar coins were probably struck in or around New York City in early 1776. Designed by Benjamin Franklin, at least a number of the dies used to make the coins were likely cut by Elisha Gallaudet, a New York engraver. The obverse device of the sun blazing down on a sundial in conjunction with the legends "FUGIO" and "MIND YOUR BUSINESS" are to be taken as meaning "time flies, so work hard and be industrious."

Metal: Pewter
Date: 1776
Size: 40 mm
Origin: American Colonies/NY

Continental Currency 20 Dollar Note, 1775

Unique amongst the Continental currency series is the $20 note issued May 20, 1775. Not only is it oblong in shape, but its left-hand border is colorfully "marbled." At the time, it was thought that this fledgling attempt at national currency would retain its value, so that such a bold anti-counterfeiting measure would be worth the extra expense.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1775
Size: 2.5" x 5"
Origin: American Colonies/PA

Continental Currency 1/3 Dollar Note, 1776

Bearing the same Benjamin Franklin-designed motifs as the Continental dollar coins, the fractional issues of February 1776 have become emblematic of the American Revolutionary cause. Denominated in one-sixth, one-third, one-half, and two-thirds of a dollar, as many as 600,000 of each note were printed and are commonly encountered today.

Metal: Paper
Date: 1776
Size: 3.25" x 2.5"
Origin: American Colonies/PA


© 2006 The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation