UNC Libraries

Federal Period

Federal Period [1783-1820s]

Proof sheet of North Carolina treasury notes, 1824
Proof sheet of North Carolina treasury notes, 1824

The University Libraries' numismatic collection holds examples of the last currencies authorized and circulated by the State of North Carolina during the eighteenth century. Thomas Davis, son of North Carolina's first public printer James Davis, produced North Carolina’s 1783 and 1785 emissions in his print shop in Hillsborough. Also preserved in the collection are two very rare uncut sheets of North Carolina scrip or “due bills” that date from the 1790s. In addition, there is an equally rare collection of treasury notes and proof sheets associated with the “illegal” paper money that North Carolina’s state government issued between 1815 and 1824. Several of the specimens in that collection are illustrated in the 1992 edition of Confederate and Southern States Currency by Grover C. Criswell, Jr. and Hugh Shull's An Official Red Book: A Guide Book of Southern States Currency, 2006.

During this period, the United States Mint began to produce coins, but never enough to meet the needs of circulation. No federal paper money was produced, except for an emission during the War of 1812. In addition to North Carolina treasury notes, private paper money began to be printed to meet the need for circulating money.

The State Bank of North Carolina $2, 1816 or 1817
The State Bank of North Carolina $2
1816 or 1817
University of North Carolina lottery ticket, 1801
University of North Carolina lottery ticket, 1801
Hillsborough (North Carolina) Academy 5 cents due bill, 1816
Hillsborough (North Carolina) Academy
5 cents scrip, 1816

Above from top left: Privately-issued bank notes started to appear in the first decade of the 1800s. The example from the State Bank of North Carolina (not a governmental entity) is probably a counterfeit produced at the time (i.e., contemporary counterfeit). Nevertheless, it circulated, was patched, and circulated some more.

Lotteries helped raise funds for public work projects such as schools and bridges from the middle of the 1700s to the 1830s. They were authorized by the legislature. The University of North Carolina received permission to issue two lotteries (Class I and Class II) in 1801 to raise funds to complete South Building. They brought in almost $5000, but it was still more than a decade before the building was completed. Lotteries were eventually outlawed in North Carolina on moral grounds, but by this time the government took responsibility for funding most projects once aided by lotteries.

It wasn't only banks that issued paper money. Merchants, schools, railroads, insurance companies, and many other enterprises issued their own paper money. Non-bank issues are usually called scrip. The Hillsborough Academy issued small-change notes.

See more images from the Federal Period.