An Interesting Bill — From the Desk of Q. David Bowers

An Interesting Bill

Illustrated here are images of a fantasy bill or note datelined Washington City July 24, 1880. "Absolute Money for the sum of One Thousand Dollars, Redeemable nowhere," etc., etc. Series 59,843,702,086,231,787. The general distributor is B.F. Butler,  the buffoon nicknamed "Spoons" Butler who supervised New Orleans when the Union took it back from the Confederate States of America in 1862. Uriah S. Stephens, important in the founding of the Knights of Labor, is also on the note.  On the right is the U.S. Mint turning out paper money (of course, incorrect).  There are at least two different versions of this bill, with different layouts of the face.

The note is a satire on the Greenback Party, which advocated the extensive issuance of paper money not backed by specie (silver or gold coins). This would make it easier for citizens to borrow money, to pay old debts, and more. The Greenbackers had candidates in the presidential elections of 1876, 1880, and 1884. This bill satirizes the 1880 contest and its 1880 contender Butler, who did not get the nomination (it went to James Baird Weaver). Butler was the candidate in 1884. The party also had some sensible planks in its platform, such as reducing the number of hours per day for laborers and eliminating child labor (a blot on American history that was not solved until the early 20th century),

By 1880 the Free Silver movement, another strong element of politics, had been partially diminished by the Bland-Allison Act of February 28, 1878, requiring Uncle Sam to buy millions of ounces of unwanted silver. This metal was coined into "Morgan" dollars, much to the delight of a later generation of numismatists. Free Silver became terminally ill with the defeat of William Jennings Bryan in the election of 1894. The unlimited issue of paper money faded after the Greenback Party’s last national election bid in 1884.

In December 2016 Fred Holabird in his auction described lot 3157:

"Fascinating American history. Four pieces of political currency and an original hand written letter explaining their distribution. Ainger and Taylor, editors of the Charlotte Republican in Michigan printed and circulated "from Maine to Texas" over 160,000 of these satirical notes. An original letter dated Nov. 15, 1880 to Philadelphia is included. Two notes of Absolute Money for the sum of Fifty Dollars. Both sides full of satirical political commentary: "gold and silver are a deceptson(sic). What we want is absolute, irredeemable paper, stamped by the government." "Eternal damnation to any man who refuses to take this bill at par for all debts." "Civilization demands paper currency representing no artificial value. This is just the thing–representing no value whatever." Two notes for absolute money for the sum of One Thousand Dollars, including phrases like: "Burn the bonds. Shoot the bondholders" Issued on Swindlerville Avenue in Washington City, July 24th, 1880."

Daniel B. Ainger bought the Charlotte Republican in 1877 and used it as a platform to endorse the Republican Party. Notably, he was postmaster in Washington, D.C. from 1880 to 1882. It would be interesting to learn more about the distribution of the two (at least) varieties of the notes. Many in existence today are in lower grades. Values are from about $50 to $150. I love things like this with interesting stories that invite further research.

Join our mailing list

Don't miss an auction!

Subscribe to our newsletter.


Contact Us

West Coast Office • (800) 458-4646

Midwest Office • (800) 817-2646

East Coast Office • (800) 566-2580

Hong Kong, China Office • +852 2117 1191

Follow Us

Subscribe to
Our Newsletter

We are sorry, an unexpected error occurred!
Please enter a valid email address

I'm Interested In...

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Stack's Bowers Galleries e-newsletter.