Confederate $100 – fake or fortune?

fake or fortune
Confederate $100 “shin-plaster”

A Confederate $100 bill in rural Lancashire?   If only I could be transported back to 1863 Virginia, I would be rich.  Or would I?

Although I am not American, I am an American history nut.  While I am a writer on the Revolution rather than the Civil War, both periods, fascinate me.  I have always wanted a Confederate artefact of some kind.   Strangely it took a trip back to Lancashire England to find one.

Liverpool Confederates

Prowling around a provincial auction I came face to face with a Confederate $100 bill.  My first instinct was it must be fake.  How would it have got here?  I am aware that many Southern banknotes in the States are fake, and this one seemed to be in too good a condition.  It was also a relatively high denomination, making it, in my inexperienced eyes, rarer still.   Additionally, it came with no provenance.  The auction house merely told me it had come from a deceased estate and could offer no further information.

But Lancashire was the cotton capital of the UK.  Many contracts were signed between manufacturers here and Confederate agents.  Added to this, the port of Liverpool, just up the road from the auction house traded openly with the Confederacy and was the premier commercial hub between the two nations. I convinced myself it was genuine.

Beautiful Design

I was drawn to its clarity and beauty.  It featured a” Casey Jones” style locomotive and a bucolic-looking woman holding a basket on her head looking for all the world like an Italian peasant.  It had been hand dated  January 6, 1863, and had a further handwritten notation on the otherwise blank reverse.  Apart from this, the only other inscriptions were a tellers stamp in red stating “interest paid until January 1864 Augusta”.

The calligraphy was unquestionably of the period.  People just do not write in that type of hand any more.  The condition was excellent.   When would I come across another again?  I purchased it for £90 (around $120) on impulse and went home the proud owner of a small piece of Civil War history.

Confederate Shinplaster

Then I did some research!  There was no doubting its authenticity, but its rarety was another matter.  Even in early 1863 with the Confederacy at its military apogee,  the Richmond government could not stop printing banknotes like there was no tomorrow.   I had got my hands on a currency that was regarded even by the most loyal “Reb” as being practically worthless.

A Northern cartoon making fun of the southern war economy

By the time this note was issued in 1863, Inflation was horrific.  Almost at Weimar Republic levels.  The individual  States issued many denominations of banknotes during the War. These notes supplemented both the “federal” issues from the Confederate States of America and the bank notes that were already in pre-war circulation.  In addition, when the Confederate Government taxed individual States, some did not pass on the tax to their people. Instead, they simply produced more currency to pay these “federal” taxes.   This all contributed to the hyperinflation rate.  By 1865 the Confederate currency was practically worthless.  I had in my hands a genuine piece of Confederate “shinplaster”.

Costly but worth it!

So my piece of history had cost me considerably more in Lancashire than it had if I had bought it in Louisiana.   But sometimes owning something is not just about value but its historical worth and this was one time I was more than happy to have paid over the odds.  I just need to make sure I do not create a habit of it!

Read about more Fake or Fortune Americana here

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