Monday, May 14, 2012

American History Through Currency

I was recently sucked into some guilty pleasure TV.  Yes, I will admit to watching the History Television Pawn Stars.   Despite the lack of real historical content the program did contain mention of the educational currency series which existed in the United States in the 890s.  Being the history lover that I am, I wrote myself a sticky note to research this interesting bit of history.

The educational series was a set of silver certificates created in 1878.  The bills in the series depicted various scenes which are atypical to currency.  The images on the currency highlighted artwork, historical figures, and scientific innovation. These notes were back the government's stockpile of silver, and could be redeemed for silver at the Treasury.  This series went out of circulation when the silver redemption program was stopped in 1968.

The term educational series grew out of the fact that images on the bills had the potential to educate the general populace about American history, science, and politics. Three bills were created as part of this series:

A one dollar bill entitled "History Instructing Youth".  This bill showed the 'goddess of history' instructing a young person in the history of the United States.  The bill also includes the constitution and names of famous Americans.

A two dollar bill titled "Science presenting steam and electricity to Commerce and Manufacture". This note uses art to highlight the impact of steam and electricity on the American economy and development.

A five dollar bill entitled "Electricity as the Dominant Force in the World".  Similar to the two dollar note, this bill uses women to depict electricity.  Some controversy was raised of the artistic merits of this bill, as it featured to women with bare breasts.

This series is by far the most interesting type of currency I have ever seen.  It is reminiscent of classical artwork and touches on themes far outside the range of normal currency.

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