Fractional Currency: Substitutes for Scarce Metal

During the Civil War, widespread hoarding of gold and silver coins and the need to divert metals created a desperate shortage of small change. Paper tickets and bills were frequently substituted, but the scarcity was so great that Congress authorized the issuance of postage stamps as a temporary “Fractional Currency.”

From 1862 to 1876, the federal government issued more than $368 million in Fractional Currency notes in three- to fifty-cent denominations. Nicknamed “shinplasters,” these “paper” coins were much smaller in size than our existing currency. After the Civil War, Fractional Currency was no longer needed and by 1876, Congress stopped printing “shinplasters.”