Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

TRADE CURRENCY CIRCULATED HERE IN 1933

by Frank Passic, Albion Historian

Albion Recorder, June 10, 1978, pp. 1, 3

With the minting this year of the Festival of the Forks $1 trade dollars which will be good as cash until Oct. 31, it should be remembered that there was a time when such “money” was used in Albion as a necessity to meet a crisis situation.

Forty-five years ago the nation was in the midst of a depression. President Franklin Roosevelt had declared a “bank holiday,” and many businesses were caught without sufficient cash to carry on normal commercial transactions. Such was the case in Albion as the Albion Commercial & Savings Bank (now City Bank & Trust Co.) closed its doors for several months starting in March, 1933. Local merchants were concerned with the low retail business in Albion as cash was in short supply. Information from the Albion Recorder and the official City Council proceedings from 1933 reveal a cooperative scheme was devised to help relieve the situation.

A committee of members of the Albion Business & Professional Men’s Association polled local merchants about their cooperation in the issuance of scrip. Scrip is paper currency, usually of denominations less than $1, issued as substitutes for cash by private organizations and, during the 1930s, by city governments. The philosophy was that scrip, as a substitute for cash, would increase business in Albion.

A petition was circulated an signatures from businessmen in the community were obtained. The petition, presented to Albion Mayor Norman H. Wiener on March 16, asked that the city issue $300 in stamped scrip which would be circulated by means of the city payroll.

It was proposed that the scrip be issued in the denominations of 50 cents, and $1.00. The plan called for placing dated stamps on the reverse at the time of each transaction, so at maturity, the scrip would contain 52 stamps. Two-cent stamps were to be used for the $1 scrip, and 1-cent stamps for the 50¢ scrip. The maturity date would be 6 months from the time of issuance, and $1 in scrip would ibe issued by the city for every $9 in actual money given in wages. After the scrip was filled with stamps, City Clerk Paul P. Nagle would then pay the 50 cents or $1 in cash to the bearer.

The plan was not without opposition, however. In letters to the editor in The Albion Recorder March 13, 1933, a letter signed by “An American citizen” stated: “...it certainly would be of no value to pay off bank loans...What about the grocer or any other businessman who takes in a lot of this money and then cannot use it?..this is nothing more than inflation on a small scale, and I am not in favor of inflation.”

The Albion City Council met and approved the issuance of the scrip, and the plan was carried out as follows: The life of the scrip was 90 days. Stamps were purchased from various merchants at the time of spending and affixed on the reverse side in his presence. The dates were designed to insure the scrip’s turnover at least twice a week. If the stamp was not used by the designated date, the bearer had to pay 1 cent in order to continue the validity of the scrip.

The scrip was put into circuation on March 25 through the city payroll. City employees whose wages were under $5 received 50 cents in scrip. In cases where wages were over $5, two were given. The city employees than “spent” the scrip with local merchants. The merchant, in turn, was expected to “liquidate some of his obligations with other concerns in the city, or to keep the scrip in circulation by giving it to customers as change,” according to the Recorder of March 25.

The circulation of the scrip was completed the following Friday with the issuance of the city’s semi-monthly payroll. Practicaly all city employees, from the councilmen down, received at least $1 worth of scrip. A total of $300, or 600 pieces, was printed. For some unknown reason, the $1 denomination was not issued, although it was authorized.

A description of this “Albion Trade Currency” is as follows: Size: 7 3/4 by 3 1/4 inches. Color: Red. Obverse: “Albion Trade Currency” A picture of Franklin Roosevelt appears on the left, with the serial number appearing in two locations. The scrip is hand-signed by Mayor Norman H. Wiener and City Clerk P. P. Nagle. The reverse contains 50 spaces to place 1-cent stamps which are dated.

What was the success of this scrip money in Albion? In talking to area residents, I found that many of them had neither heard nor seen this “money,” even though they were living in Albion at the time. A good explanation of the successs, or failure of the scrip is contained in an editorial in the Recorder July 11, 1933, fou months after the scrip’s issuance: “A little dab of scrip not o exceed $300, is still floating around Albion.”

“We looked into one instance, in which a piece of the scrip lacked five stamps to bring it up to date. It had been through three hands, maybe more, in the one day...if the stamps had been affixed for each transaction it would have been retired in the middle of May.”

“The small amount of the issue discouraged any great preparation for its original reception. Probably more than half of the people of Albion have never even seen a piece of it. It was issued on short notice as a try-out of the idea, and little attention was paid to explaining how it should be handled. The result has been that a number of those who agreed to accept it have either refused or have received it with very poor grace. The scrip is becoming unpopular in many quarters.”

“Its usefulness, however, seems to have dwindled. It might be well for the city, which issued it last March at the request of the merchants and at a small expense, to retire it as it comes in on taxes, water, etc. By the end of this week 64 cents of every dollar’s worth of scrip in circulation will have been paid to the city in the purchase of stamps. If it were all retired now the city would have a very neat profit on the transaction--about 500 percent on its original investment.”

Unfortunately, records of 1933 from the City Hall have been destroyed, and it is not known how many pieces were turned in for redemption. How many exist today? In checking among numismatic circles, I have accounted for five pieces known to be in existence. It is conceivable that a few pieces of scrip might still be preserved, probably in some trunk in an attic, or may be unnoticed inside an old unused book. In any case, the “Albion Trade Currency” is not widely known, even by Albion residents.


Albion Trade Currency, obverse side

This is an example of the 50-cent “Albion Trade Currency” which was put into circulation in the depths of the Great Depression in an effort to stimulate business.


Albion Trade Currency, reverse side

The Reverse of the Albion Trade Currency had dated squares to which stamps had to be affixed. The object was to keep the scrip circulating.

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