Coin lovers know that collecting paper currency can also be enjoyable and rewarding. Currency is more fragile than metal coins are, of course, but they also preserve history. A period of time in American history that seems never to fully fade in the American imagination is the Civil War. During these four years American money changed because of the disruptions caused by the war. Some of this money is valuable, even very valuable. How much is Confederate currency worth?
The Story of Confederate Money
In 1861, when eleven southern states seceded from the Union, the Civil War began. The Confederacy was immediately confronted with several challenges. Its people were still trading in the coin of the enemy now invading them, and wars are very expensive. The economy of the South was agrarian. It had neither the infrastructure nor the manufacturing capacity of the North, and it still had to purchase military equipment and pay its bills. The Confederacy decided to print paper money as a fundraising strategy.
These printed promissory notes came to be called graybacks after the gray uniform that soldiers of the Confederacy wore. The first notes had the terms printed on the bills themselves: When the Confederacy won, it promised to pay the holder the bill’s face value in coin. These notes were not as high quality as other American money because the Confederacy did not have an established treasury or staff engravers. They were decorated with images of classical gods, important American personages, and agrarian scenes. The notes varied in appearance.
Paper currency has no intrinsic value like gold or silver does. People accept that it has value either because it is backed by precious metal or because the issuing government guarantees it. Unfortunately for the Confederacy and anyone holding Confederate currency, when the South lost the war, everyone gave up hope they would ever be able to redeem their notes. They became all but worthless for trading before the war even ended.
Today some of these graybacks have significant worth as historical items.
How Much Is Confederate Currency Worth?
The first thing that collectors must keep in mind with regard to Confederate currency is that many of the graybacks floating around out there are fake. The Union, in fact, printed counterfeit Confederate currency at the time and released it into the economy in an attempt to cause inflation and undermine the Confederacy.
So some Confederate currency is not authentic and therefore worth nothing. There are ways to determine if the bill is authentic:
- Check the signature on the note. All authentic Confederate notes were hand signed. If the ink is a different color than the rest of the black ink on the note, it’s more likely to be real.
- Examine the edge of the bill. These notes were hand cut with scissors, so they will not be as straight and even as those cut by machine.
How much real Confederate graybacks are worth depends on demand and condition. They can range anywhere in value from $5 to thousands of dollars. If the bill is crisp, not folded, and in uncirculated condition, it will be worth more. What else affects the value of these bills? Earlier issued bills, bills that are more decorative, and bills that are stamped with the name of the issuing bank tend to be worth more. There are some rare and sought after issues that can be difficult to find in high grade.
If you have questions about Civil War currency, consult a knowledgeable coin or antique dealer. They will be able to give you a better idea if your note is real and what it’s worth.
Many people drawn to this period of history want the kind of tangible memorial that makes them feel connected to the people who lived at that time. If you would like help acquiring coins or currency, call us at Grand Rapids Coins. We are here to help.