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Money Troubles on North Carolina's Homefront
by R. Neil Fulghum
Keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery

Salisbury Food Riot & Inflation

By 1863 the falling value of currency was already causing southern tempers to flare. In Salisbury, N.C., a mob composed largely of soldiers' wives confronted a store owner over what they perceived as excessive profiteering. When the owner closed his storehouse, the hatchet-wielding ladies simply chopped down the door. The owner quickly agreed to sell them 10 barrels of flour at reduced prices.

In her extensive wartime diary, published under the title Journal of a Secesh Lady, Catherine Edmondston of Halifax County dismisses bread riots in various locales in the South as being "instigated by the Yankees," and she considers the Salisbury confrontation as "a small affair for plunder alone." Naive about the growing currency problems and unaware of the basic causes for inflation, Edmondston expresses confidence later in her diary that better times were coming: "Prices are very high, but money is plentiful & becoming more so."

By 1864, even the confident Catherine Edmondston had lost hope for the Confederacy's monetary system. She complains in her diary in April of that year that the currency was "now little but waste paper." She, along many other southerners, bitterly criticized Confederate Secretary of the Treasury Christopher G. Memminger, blaming him personally for the South's worsening monetary problems. (See a depiction of Memminger on lower left corner of the 1862 five-dollar note.)

Counterfeit & Spurious Notes

Over-issues of currency, the tightening Union blockade, and rebel defeats after Gettysburg doomed any hopes that Southern moneys would recover from their downward spiral. Counterfeiting was but one other persistent problem. Throughout the war, Northern and foreign printers produced numerous fake Confederate notes as souvenirs and for clients who smuggled them into the South. One Philadelphia printer advertised to sell $2,000 in Confederate notes for 50 United States cents. Exhibited here are a genuine $100 Confederate note and a counterfeit produced in Havana, Cuba. In a side-by-side comparison, the counterfeit (bottom) is fairly easy to detect. Notice the differences in the details of the soldiers and the lack of refinement of in the counterfeit's central portrait of Lucy Pickens.

genuine confederate 100 note

Genuine Confederate one hundred-dollar note, 1864.
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

counterfeit 100 note

Counterfeit Confederate one hundred-dollar note, 1864.
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

Surviving counterfeits of North Carolina currency are fairly rare, certainly not as abundant as those misrepresenting Confederate issues or the notes of some sister states. This suggests that counterfeiting was not as large a problem here as elsewhere. Still, North Carolina forgeries did circulate, along with other unusual currencies, such as these $3 and $4 notes. While counterfeiters are generally known for copying authentic currency, some unscrupulous printers of the period merely concocted or made-up money. The notes they produced look official but have no legitimate counterparts. The state never issued notes of these types. Today money collectors refer to such specimens as spurious notes.

counterfeit NC three-dollar note

Illegitimate North Carolina three-dollar note, 1862.
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

counterfeit NC four-dollar note

Illegitimate North Carolina four-dollar note, 1862.
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

Paper Shortages

The quality of printing and sheer quantity of Southern currencies were remarkable, considering that Confederate and North Carolina printers were plagued by shortages and had to obtain many of their materials and presses from foreign sources. Lack of paper forced officials to print some currency on old or used paper. Shown here is the obverse (front) of a North Carolina $100 note and its reverse, which reveals that the money was printed on the back of a canceled or misprinted bond.

NC 100-dollar note on recycled paper

North Carolina $100 note printed on the back of a recycled bond.
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

Below is another example of a note that was printed on the back of misprinted or surplus sheets of other currency. Clearly evident on the reverse of this 25-cent specimen is a portion of a $50 North Carolina note, which bears the portrait of Governor Zebulon Vance.

NC 25-cent note printed on other currency

North Carolina 25¢ note printed on reverse of $50 note.
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

Even in the early stages of the war, the printers of state currencies often found it difficult to locate or maintain adequate supplies of paper. For private companies, coping with such shortages required even greater ingenuity. In place of regular paper, some printers used lining papers or wallpapers for the production of their notes, such as the paper used to print this type issued by the Greensboro Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1862.

NC currency printed on wallpaper

North Carolina note printed on wallpaper.
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)