The Birth Of The Greenback
N. P. R.. Stacey next. Jacob Feldstein. Planet money author of money the true story of amid up during a new book. Say I. brought props for us to do the indicator. I say. That's been months. It's been. That guy's been honking hall eight months. I have props came over so I could give you these troughs. Okay. Go ahead and look at them. All right. Okay. So, this is like a really high quality xerox of an old piece of money. THREE DOLLAR BILL RE dollar bill that's really a real thing. There's like a a lady standing next to in like a ball gown standing next to a cow to I chose a cow to pander to you I do love a cow keep going. Okay. The Orange Bank It's orange because this from the orange. Bank and this is a one dollar bill. So Stacey, these are reproductions of real paper money that was printed by private banks in the United States in the eighteen forties and fifties. This is one of the most interesting periods I found in the history of money when I was working on my book, it's this moment when the United States government did not print money, there was in fact, no single national paper currency but if you wanted to. Open Up Stacey's Bank of New York and print your own paper money. You could. I don't know if I would trust that dollar from that. Was a real problem that was a real problem we'll get to that. I. Mean they were just so many different kinds of money at one point the Chicago Tribune counted eight, thousand, three, hundred, and seventy different kinds of paper money in America. This sounds very confusing for everyone involved this indicator from planet money. I'm Stacey Vanik Smith and Jacob. Goldstein can we make eight, thousand, three, hundred and seventy, the indicator? Yes. Today on the show. How can you even have that many kinds of money and also just what does it tell us about money works? Let's just go. Let's just go a block away to get away from the horn. Yeah. Support for NPR and the following message come from fund. fundraise fund makes it easy for anyone to invest in high quality real estate by building you a portfolio with their more than one billion dollars in assets get started at fundraise dot com slash indicator to have your first ninety days of advisory fees. Waived. This message comes from NPR sponsor. Microsoft teams. Now, there are more ways to be a team with Microsoft teams bring everyone together in a virtual room collaborate live on the same page and see up to forty nine people onscreen learn more at Microsoft Dot com slash teams. So can we should set the scene here Jacob the nineteenth century America lots of is apparently also this was the era when gold and silver were money and Jacob say in the book that the government minted gold and silver coins, but it did not make paper money at that time. The exactly right. So the only paper money in America was printed by all of these different. Private banks people called paper money in fact banknotes, right. So they thought of it as like a piece of paper from a bank and they thought of paper money in particular as like a receipt or a coach ticket as as a thing that you could substitute for gold and silver, and in fact, if you look at at the bills I gave you all have this kind of. Writing like just grab a different one for fun. So we can say what it looks like. Okay. This is the stoning ten bank, a two dollar bill. There's a way. Moby Dick or something Wail Bell we've cow Bill Wail Bill So okay. So now look at the cursive writing see the cursive they're just blowers is stoning to. Two dollars to the bear on demand right and if you look all these different bills are different colors, they have different pictures on them, but they all say that will pay how ever many dollars to the on demand and so the second interest. Yeah it's an Iou because the interesting thing is it's telling you the paper money is not the real money. Right? They're saying we will give you two dollars in gold and silver for this paper money right? So the real money in this world is the underlying gold or silver the paper is just like. The Standard. So this is a time in history when there's not federal bank, there's not a national bank. There's like thousands of of little local banks and I guess all these banks can issue their own money. That's right and it's kind of evolving in this period at the beginning of this ehre the eighteen thirties. If you wanted to open a bank, typically you had to go to your state legislature and get special approval. Basically, they had to pass a special law that would let you open your bank and this was problematic because I was super corrupt essentially. Bank and print money. Then you're gonNA bribe whoever you have to. Say all the knee. All due respect to get them to let you open your bank. Right. So around eighteen forty, a little earlier, this new idea became popular. The new idea was called free banking. And the idea of free banking was anybody who is willing to follow a few basic rules could. Take and start printing money and literally start printing money and you know not surprisingly a lot of people wanted to print money. This is how we get eight thousand different kinds of money. Yes. How do you know if the bill that someone's handing you is real money or if it's literally just a piece of paper from the First Bank of Stacey Vanik Smith which might be real money. I wouldn't. Maybe. Add bribed senator so I love this so there arose in response to this problem these special periodicals Magazines that were privately published called banknote reporters. And what they were was these lists in tiny font of every kind of money. So I actually have a reproduction here another prop from a page. This one was called. Thomson's Bank note. Reporter. K.. So the people who subscribe to this merchants people who need to accept money. So so let's just say I'm running a bar and I got my thompsons bank note reporter and I come in I need a drink who thirsty I'm thirsty. So okay. So the page of the bank note reporter I printed out is for Orange Bank. Okay. Okay. So have that bill right here it is and it's a one dollar bill. So I find Orange Bank here in my Bengal reporter and it says Okay Orange Bank listed different bills and says ones and under wants it describes what the bill is supposed to look like says to horses check. Hey, Cart Jack Blacksmith shop male portrait Jack Girl. Check. So it's at least plausibly real. The reporter also tells me something else that's important and that explains a lot about how many works at this time. Typically would tell me whether I should accept that paper money at full face vowed I can buy my dollar whiskey with this whether you can get your dollar whiskey because remember what we care about is whether I can turn in that paper money for gold or silver, and so if the bank is shaky or even if it's just really far away. You know the reporter might say, just knock five cents off the dollar give Stacey Ninety five cents worth of whiskey instead of a dollar that took a really long time to buy that we ski. It does seem like it would have been absurdly inconvenient right and for a long time when people look back at this period, the basic story of free banking was just that was a horrible idea like that many kinds of money right but. Much, later, like in the nineteen seventies. This generation of economic historians started going back and looking more closely. At the banks and how money works in this period and what they saw when they really went through the numbers was basically like it wasn't that bad Bankston go bus that often people didn't usually lose much money when they used. We're you overall they would lose like a few percent which is. Kind of like what you pay today. So when you take money out of the weird off Brand ATM at. The corner store. which I always do. Yeah, I. Mean. That's basically like the the bartenders giving you ninety cents for your dollar when you do that, right? So. Obviously, we do not have eight thousand different kinds of money now this ended and it ended after the civil war. Yeah was the civil war. So during the civil war, that old American argument of can we have national banks or not came up again and Congress passed a few important banking laws. One of them basically taxed all those thousands of kind of state banknotes out of existence, and then the other one created these new national banks that printed much more reliable, much more uniform paper money. It's interesting because I mean, this was obviously after the civil war was the time when the United States went from like a collection of. To One Country, and it seems like the same thing happened with currency maybe not a coincidence. Your I mean, there is this idea at least in the modern world money is part of what makes a country a country and I think you do see that happening at this moment in the united. States when we go from thousands of kinds of money toward one uniform kind of paper money I'm just sad we lost the cow bills. Because you know Jacob I have a fever and the cure. This story in like a whole bunch of other like believable stories like this are in your new book money. The true story of a made up thing. This episode of the indicator was produced by Nick. Fountain fact check by Britney Cronin, the indicators edited by Patty hearst and is a production of NPR.