America’s Other Money

Most of you are probably familiar with at least some of the many different issues of U.S coinage and currency from its beginning to the present. However, not so long ago there existed in America another payment system. This blog intends to give just a brief look at a mostly forgotten piece of American history....

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Starting sometime during the 19th century, immigrants from European countries, and many other countries around the world, came to America in mass. No matter where they came from, they all had a common goal. They came to pursue a better life for themselves and their families (the American Dream).

Many of these immigrants ended up working in America’s booming coal industry. These people were given a job with one of many coal companies, then, more often then not, they were provided living quarters in a home that was owned by the company. They were paid, not with legal tender dollars, but with what is known as “scrip”... While most scrip is coinage, it could also be paper notes. This “scrip” was only good at the company store. Basically, you went to work for the company, lived in a house the company owned and were paid for your labor with the company’s own personal currency that could only be used at the company store.

Sadly, many of these people lived in poor conditions and were overworked. However, this was a perfectly normal and acceptable practice for a long time, starting sometime during the 19th century and continuing until after WW2. It’s sad that few people today know the history of America’s other money. When I hold a piece of coal scrip in my hand, I think of the hardships that were surely endured by the people who had to use it....

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Now, while this may be a somewhat shameful part of American history, the many remaining examples of America’s other money are quite delightful and are a joy to collect and learn more of their history. Some of the coal companies that issued scrip to pay their employees were family businesses that used the family name for the company. Now, while I have been a coin collector most of my life, I never got so excited as I did when I discovered the first piece of scrip with my last name on it! Through research I found that I am directly related to the people that owned and operated the company that issued it...

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There are some common pieces of scrip. However, many of them are quite rare and hard to find. For instance, I have six pieces of scrip with my family name ranging from a one cent to a one dollar. It took me 8 years to find all of them so it can be challenging.

There is a publication aimed at helping the coal scrip collector. The Edkins Catalog of Coal Company Scrip comes in 2 volumes. Volume 2 pertains to coal scrip that comes from the state of West Virginia, which is the coal scrip capitol of the world. Volume 1 lists coal scrip from all other states. Both volumes tend to be rare and as a result you could expect to pay $50 or more to obtain it.

Edkins Catalogue of United States Coal Company Scrip Vol 1

I consider all coins to be little works of art. They are also most certainly the keepers of time. I often wonder who may have once held a coin that I now hold. We can learn so much about those who came before us by studying the things they used. Anyway, I hope that you found this short look at America’s Other Money enjoyable. This is my first experience here though I am a long time contributor on one of the sister sites ( fishingtalks.com ).

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So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.

4 Comments:

  • Marra M: Thanks Yardbird for sharing its rich history and other related information. This will help anybody who are either searching for answers to similar questions or need to research to report on a school project or something similar to this. Good job!
  • Vale: Yardbird, great blog! These are fascinating, how do you look for scrip? My mother’s side of the family had a long history in the mines and I know they owned one in western PA. How could I find out if they used scrip?
  • yardbird:

    hi, glad that you guys like the blog thanks for the kind words. vale the best way to look for coal company scrip is to use those words to search ebay. to find information on the mine owned by your mothers family you would probably have to contact the courthouse in the PA county where it was located. i found scrip by doing an ebay search of my last name. i had no idea that coal companies had ever used it. Tennessee ernie ford wrote a song called ” 16 tons “. in that song he asked “st peter don’t you call me cause i can’t go, i owe my soul to the company store”. unfortunately that is what the scrip system did, it kept these people in constant debt to the company they worked for and that is exactly what the song was about..

  • Vale: I never knew that! How sad! I guess it’s like indentured servitude that still exists around the world...
    I will have to find out which family members owned the mine, I’d love to see if I could find scrip, even if it ended up being a mine they worked in rather than owned :)

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