Independence

Colonial and Continental Currency: 
A New Nation’s Currency

The Colonial economy depended largely on foreign coins, barter, and commodity money. In 1690, the Massachusetts Bay Colony issued the first Colonial currency. Other colonies soon began to issue their own paper currency. Usually denominated in Spanish Milled Dollars, Colonial notes were also denominated in British shillings, pounds, and pence. In 1764, the British declared Colonial currency illegal.

Beginning in 1775, the Continental Congress issued currency to finance the Revolutionary War. These notes, called Continentals, had no backing in gold or silver.

Continentals were backed by the “anticipation” of tax revenues. Easily counterfeited and without solid backing, the notes quickly became devalued, giving rise to the phrase “not worth a Continental.” This brief period marked the first time that U.S. currency’s value was derived solely from its purchasing power, as it is today.

+ References

Gallery

Colonial Currency, Massachusetts, 12 pence, 1776
Colonial Currency, Massachusetts, 12 pence, 1776

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, Massachusetts, 12 pence, 1776

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, Pennsylvania, 4 pounds, 1777

Colonial Currency, Georgia, $4, 1776
Colonial Currency, Georgia, $4, 1776

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, Georgia, $4, 1776

Colonial Currency, Massachusetts, $8, 1780
Colonial Currency, Massachusetts, $8, 1780

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, Massachusetts, $8, 1780

Colonial Currency, New Jersey, 3 pounds, 1776
Colonial Currency, New Jersey, 3 pounds, 1776

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, New Jersey, 3 pounds, 1776

Colonial Currency, Connecticut, 4 pence, 1777
Colonial Currency, Connecticut, 4 pence, 1777

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, Connecticut, 4 pence, 1777

Colonial Currency, Delaware, 5 shillings, 1776
Colonial Currency, Delaware, 5 shillings, 1776

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, Delaware, 5 shillings, 1776

Colonial Currency, Maryland, $8, 1774
Colonial Currency, Maryland, $8, 1774

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, Maryland, $8, 1774

Colonial Currency, New Hampshire, $3, 1780
Colonial Currency, New Hampshire, $3, 1780

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, New Hampshire, $3, 1780

Colonial Currency, New York, 8 shillings, 1776
Colonial Currency, New York, 8 shillings, 1776

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, New York, 8 shillings, 1776

Colonial Currency, New York, two-thirds dollar, 1776
Colonial Currency, New York, two-thirds dollar, 1776

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, New York, two-thirds dollar, 1776

Colonial Currency, North Carolina, 2 pounds, 1771
Colonial Currency, North Carolina, 2 pounds, 1771

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, North Carolina, 2 pounds, 1771

Colonial Currency, Pennsylvania, 50 shillings, 1775
Colonial Currency, Pennsylvania, 50 shillings, 1775

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, Pennsylvania, 50 shillings, 1775

Colonial Currency, Rhode Island, 30 shillings, 1786
Colonial Currency, Rhode Island, 30 shillings, 1786

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, Rhode Island, 30 shillings, 1786

Colonial Currency, South Carolina, 3 shillings 9 pence, 1778
Colonial Currency, South Carolina, 3 shillings 9 pence, 1778

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, South Carolina, 3 shillings 9 pence, 1778

Colonial Currency, Virginia, $6, 1776
Colonial Currency, Virginia, $6, 1776

Notes of the Original 13 Colonies

Colonial Currency, Virginia, $6, 1776

Continental Currency, one-third dollar, 1776
Continental Currency, one-third dollar, 1776

Initial Issue of the Continental Congress

one-third dollar, 1776

Continental Currency, $4, 1776
Continental Currency, $4, 1776

Initial Issue of the Continental Congress

$4, 1776

Continental Currency, $30, 1777
Continental Currency, $30, 1777

Initial Issue of the Continental Congress

$30, 1777

Continental Currency, $35, 1779
Continental Currency, $35, 1779

Initial Issue of the Continental Congress

$35, 1779

Continental Currency, $40, 1779
Continental Currency, $40, 1779

Initial Issue of the Continental Congress

$40, 1779

Continental Currency, $60, 1779
Continental Currency, $60, 1779

Initial Issue of the Continental Congress

$60, 1779

Continental Currency, $65, 1779
Continental Currency, $65, 1779

Initial Issue of the Continental Congress

$65, 1779