The CMC Catalogs: Fractional Money of the Civil War

Published 4/30/2021 12:03 PM CT

In the fall of 1861, during the U.S. Civil War, the Union was not doing well and people began to panic from the uncertainty. They were afraid that the warring governments would start issuing paper currency to pay the war debt which would become worthless. Since coin required a certain amount of metal almost equal to the face value of the coin, people began to hoard their gold, silver, and copper. The coin shortage made it difficult for merchants to do business. General Francis Elias Spinner, Treasurer of the United States, pasted a few postage stamps onto a piece of paper and came up with the idea of printing paper currency in values less than one dollar instead of using coins. President Lincoln signed the Postage Currency Act on July 17, 1862. The currency was first known as “postage currency” and later as “fractional currency.” These notes were in use between August 21, 1862, and February 15, 1876. They could be redeemed by the U.S. Postal Service for face value in postage stamps. Fractional notes were issued in 3, 5, 10, 15, 25, and 50-cent denominations.

These items were cataloged by the Cataloging Maintenance Center for Dixon Public Library’s Lincoln collection. To view samples of Civil War fractional currency, visit the Dixon Public Library at 221 S Hennepin Ave, Dixon, Illinois 61021. 

Civil War Fractional Currency

CMC Cataloging Maintenance Center - Statewide Cataloging Support

Funding for the Cataloging Maintenance Center is provided through the Illinois State Library and the Secretary of State and administered by Illinois Heartland Library System. The CMC provides statewide cataloging support for Illinois libraries, including free original and copy cataloging of eligible special collections, consultation on metadata projects, database cleanup for LLSAPs, cataloging training, and more. Learn more at