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.


Morning Star, December 31, 2000, pg. 12

Happy New Year everyone! As we conclude the year 2000, we look back and remember how we’ve had to get used to printing the numeral "2000" on our dated checks and documents instead of "19-something." It all has to start now with the numeral "2." Speaking of two, did you know "too" that Albion once had a $2 bill of its own?

From the fall of 1886 through June 1916 Albion College operated a Commercial Department, known as the Albion Business School. The goal of the school was to help students educate themselves about surviving in the business world. Courses included penmanship, shorthand, typewriting, and bookkeeping.

This vocational emphasis did not sit well with the College establishment which was used to teaching the more "refined" traditional studies such as literature, languages, art, music, mathematics, and sciences. The "step-child" Commercial Department did not receive the full blessing of the faculty, and "enrollees in the Business College did not participate in the baccalaureate program," states author Fennimore (The Albion College Sesquicentennial History: 1835-1985, pg. 264). Despite this, the Commercial Department was a huge success, and its numbers swelled to over 80 students by the end of the 1880s.

The Commercial Department at Albion College was semi-independent. The College supplied the rooms, lights and heat in the first floor of the south half of the North building, but the Department was responsible for its own materials, supplies, and equipment. The Department also had to fund its own faculty from the tuition it collected. From all funds collected by the Commercial Department, they got to keep seventy-five percent, while Albion College would reap twenty-five percent of the funds.

Those taking bookkeeping courses in the Commercial Department would receive a supply kit containing all the mock forms that would have been used in the business world at the time. These included notes, drafts, receipts, checks, bill heads, shipping invoices, freight and shipping receipts, insurance policies, bills of exchange, bills of sale, statements, deeds, mortgages, leases, and merchandise cards. Each student was furnished with a beginning cash capital of one thousand dollars.

College Currency (play money) was used which was deposited in the "college bank," and a pass book would also be issued. Various college currency notes were printed in denominations of $5, $20, $50, $100, and $1,000. These were generic notes (used in schools across the country) contained in the "Sadler’s Bookkeeping Office Practice" kit which was the "textbook" for the class during the late 1890s. The notes served as money used in transactions to help make classroom learning experiences more realistic.

Of special interest is a set of notes used during the 1889-90 school year. That year the Commercial Department printed its own local notes to supplement the pre-printed generic notes. These measure 174 x 75 mm. in size, and were issued in denominations of $1, $2, $5, and $10. Printed with blue ink, the face side states, "Commercial Department C. A. Head, Principal. Currency. Albion College, Albion, Mich. X Dollars." On the right is a portrait of an elk with mountains in the distance. On the left is the image of a man, presumably professor Head, with a big head on this note. The back is printed with orange ink and contains a drawing of a schooner in the center, surrounded by numerous starbursts which make up the rest of the design. The notes were printed by the Recorder Press.

Professor Cary A. Head was principal of the school only during the 1889-90 school year. He left to become superintendent of the West Michigan Business University and Normal School of Grand Rapids, and was succeeded here by Charles McClellan for the 1890-91 school year. From our Historical Notebook we present a photo of the set of 1889-90 notes from the Commercial Department of Albion College.

Albion College Currency

Albion College Currency, reverse side

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