Collecting U.S. Depression and Panic Scrip
Collecting U.S. Depression and Panic Scrip home page
Depression Scrip refers to the variety of non-national and local currencies issued on an emergency basis by banks, municipalities, corporations, barter/self-help groups and even private individuals during most years of the Great Depression (approximately 1932 to 1938). While the terms and circumstances of these issues differed greatly, their common goal was to provide some relief for increasingly dire economic circumstances. People experienced these circumstances as a shortage of money, which the various scrip emissions attempted to address.
Panic Scrip refers to bank-issued circulating media that sought to remedy shortages of official currency during periods of financial stringency (what were commonly called “panics”) that occurred episodically throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, prior to the establishment of the Federal Reserve System in 1913 and federal deposit insurance twenty years later. Most of this scrip was issued during the Panic of 1907, although smaller amounts were issued during the Panic of 1893 as well as briefly during 1914, at the outset of World War I. Panic Scrip almost always took the form of clearinghouse certificates, a temporary currency issued by bank associations and collateralized by their pooled assets.
Both Depression Scrip and Panic Scrip were extremely local forms of emergency money that are typically collected according to the type of scrip, who issued it, or the place where it was issued.
SPMC Video: U.S. Depression Scrip
This video provides a great overview of Depression scrip presented by SPMC Governor Loren Gatch.
History of U.S. Financial Panics
- This article by Loren Gatch provides a brief historical overview of the six major financial panics during the century before the Federal Reserve System was established in 1913.
Types of Depression and Panic Scrip
- The Rise of the Clearinghouse Certificate
- Panic Scrip Issues of 1893, 1907 and 1914
- Labor Exchange Notes of the 1890s
- Scrip Issued during the Great Depression of the 1930s
Other Depression/Panic Scrip Topics
- Were these Various Kinds of Scrip Legal to Issue?
- Other Financial Ephemera that are Sometimes Confused with Depression Scrip
Ways to Collect Depression/Panic Scrip
Financial panics and economic depressions are historical events that have beginnings and ends. The varieties and amounts of the emergency currencies they produced are, in principle, fixed. While it’s possible for previously unknown examples and varieties to emerge from hoards, about all that wasn’t retired and destroyed probably already lies in the hands of collectors and dealers somewhere. Sadly, out of the many documented issues of scrip during these episodes, some have no surviving examples after the need for them passed. Of the some two dozen experiments with stamp scrip that were undertaken across the state of Oklahoma between 1932 and 1934, only the notes of one city (Okmulgee) have survived in any appreciable quantity.
Although panics and depressions were national in scope, the resulting scrip issues were themselves quite local in extent and circulation. Thus, an intuitive way of collecting them is by place of issue, whether state, county, city, or town. Even on the smallest scale, their histories can be complicated. For example, in Michigan the City of Owasso managed to emit three different types of scrip during the single year of 1933 alone.
Collecting scrip by type and variety also makes sense, particularly with respect to the 1930s. In some instances, notably the tax anticipation note issues of Michigan and (especially) New Jersey, the sheer variety of issue dates, series, and denominations encourages collectors to pursue them almost as they would conventional paper money. In contrast, the scrip of 1893, 1907, and 1914 tends to be more functionally uniform in the sense that it was all issued either as clearinghouse certificates, or as some kind of negotiable draft or check (cashier’s, payroll), and all for the very specific purpose of alleviating an acute, but temporary, cash shortage.
Panic Scrip of these earlier periods also overlaps to some extent with other financial instruments and even currency types that aren’t necessarily viewed as emergency money. The large-denomination clearinghouse loan certificates used by banks to expand their reserves appear more like fiscal paper than as circulating currency. Conversely, the large-denomination coin and currency notes used by clearing houses in their settlements fall into an entirely different (and vastly more expensive!) collecting category of paper money than the emergency currencies issued by those same clearing houses.
Collectors motivated by the historical backstories to these emergency issues will find great satisfaction in their pursuit. The Labor Exchange Notes of the 1890s and the workers’ movement that spawned them still remain intriguingly obscure in many ways. The Panic Scrip of 1907 was particularly important for the public debate about banking reform that was energized by the sheer scale of these ersatz currency issues. Indeed, the earliest compilations of such scrip were made not by collectors, but by financial professionals who sought to promote a more formal and intentional version of clearing house money as a solution to the nation’s chronic problem of currency inelasticity.
For the most part, Panic and Depression Scrip remain relatively niche collector interests. As a result, the material is relatively affordable compared to other types and themes found in the American collector market. Common issues of the 1930s can be acquired for only a few dollars apiece; even very rare items seldom go for more than a few hundred dollars.
SPMC Paper Money Articles Index (Depression/Panic Scrip)
This Index page has links to all articles on U.S. Depression and Panic Scrip that have appeared in the Paper Money Journal since the first issue in 1962.
Standard References on Depression/Panic Scrip
- Mitchell, Ralph A., Neil Shafer, and Charles V. Kappen. Standard catalog of Depression scrip of the United States : The 1930s including Canada and Mexico. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1984.
- Shafer, Neil. Panic scrip of 1893, 1907 and 1914 : An illustrated catalog of emergency monetary issues. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2013.
- Much has become known about Panic and Depression Scrip since it first circulated. This essay introduces a variety of basic sources and published research about such scrip.
- The Banking Crisis of 1933; Seattle's Survival during the Great Depression Bank Closures (University of Washington).
- In 1933, When Banks Closed, Detroit Printed its Own Money (Detroit Free Press).
- Windy City Scrip (American Numismatic Association).
- How Hollywood Took the Bank Holiday (Carol_and_Co-Live Journal). Reproduction of June 1933 article from Motion Picture.
- Wisconsin Depression Scrip
- Chattanooga, TN Depression Scrip
- Stamp Scrip: Money People Paid to Use (Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland).
- Paper Money Forum
- Heritage Currency Auctions | All Past Auctions | Depression Scrip
- This is a link to the Heritage Currency Auction Archives for Depression Scrip.
- This is a link to the Heritage Currency Auction Archives for Panic Scrip.
- The SPMC Paper Money Journal is published bi-monthly and covers all facets of collecting paper money. Online and print options available for membership. SPMC.org