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NH Merchants Mint Their Own Money

Portsmouth NH Merchants / SeacoastNH.comHISTORY MATTERS 

Private "scrip notes" replaced small currency when the New England economy was strapped for cash. These paper promissary notes replaced legal tender in times of fiscal crisis, bouying up the local economy. Call it financial Darwinsim, but merchants printed their own dough simply to stay alive. (story below)

 

Making Money Work

Strapped for cash in a down economy? Just mint your own dough. It’s been done frequently in Portsmouth -- and sometimes even legally.

In tough economic times when money was scarce, local merchants issued their own "scrip notes". This privately printed currency appeared here in the colonial era, during the Civil War and in the Great Depression of the 20th century. When fresh legal tender again became available, the temporary paper scrip lost its value and faded out of circulation. Today only a handful of ardent collectors like Kevin Lafond have even seen this rare Piscataqua money.

"I bought my first piece of scrip from Dolloff’s Coin Center in the 1970s," says Lafond. "I had no idea what it was, but it was from Portsmouth and looked like money."

Scrip Notes from Portsmouth, NH merchants replaced missing coins in war economy / Kevin Lafond Collection on SeacoastNH.com

Twenty years later Lafond attended an auction of items once owned by local antiquarian Joe Copley. Like other early Portsmouth collectors including Dorothy Vaughan, Joe Frost, and Garland Patch, Copley had a passion for all things Portsmouth. Lafond bought about a dozen more scrip notes at the auction and began digging into the history of this strange forgotten NH money. Almost nothing, he discovered, had been written about it.

"That’s when I went on a quest," says Lafond, who is a certified public accountant. He was born, and still lives in the city’s Atlantic Heights neighborhood. Today he works as a corporate controller for a pharmaceutical biotech firm in Boston.

"I wanted to know who issued them, and why. How many scrip notes existed? Most were redeemed or thrown away over the years, because people didn’t value them. Joe Frost used his as bookmarks, Lafond says."

 

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Thursday, November 23, 2017 
 
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