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Southern cash


When I went to Charlottesville for the Virginia Festival of the Book, I found a store with a ton of Confederate bills for sale. I always knew the notes were cheap—the South printed a huge amount of money during the Civil War—but I was still surprised by just how cheap: anywhere from ten to thirty bucks apiece. So I couldn’t resist: I bought up a wide selection, with a few examples above.

What’s amazing is the visual diversity of Southern money. The Confederate government in Richmond wasn’t the only one printing cash during the war: individual states printed it too. The Confederate Constitution copied most of the original Constitution verbatim, but made a few revolutionary changes, including lifting the ban on state governments printing paper money. This greatly increased the amount of inflationary money in circulation, undermining the Southern war effort by making its currency virtually worthless. The best part is that many of these paper bills weren’t backed by anything but more paper. Take a look at the second note above: “The State of Georgia will pay the bearer fifty centers at the Treasury in Confederate Treasury Notes.” The value of each state’s money, in other words, relied on the value of the national money, which itself relied on promises the Southern government couldn’t possibly fulfill. Even so, the cash they printed are remarkable works of art, filled with vignettes celebrating the Southern way of life. And more than a century later, they’re still cheap.