Collections and Resources, Exhibits, North Carolina Collection, North Carolina History, Special Collections

The Art of North Carolina Money: The Stories Behind the Symbols

North Carolina Collection Gallery
Wilson Special Collections Library
June 19 – September 30, 2014
Free and open to the publicLayout 1

Nearly three centuries of North Carolina currency are now on view in the North Carolina Collection Gallery of UNC’s Wilson Library.

The Art of North Carolina Money: The Stories Behind the Symbols features more than 80 examples of money, tokens, and medals. The earliest is a handwritten five-pound note from 1729; the most recent is a colorful 2009 PLENTY (Piedmont Local EcoNomy Tender), an alternative currency used in areas around Chapel Hill.

Unlike the consistent design of most modern U.S. currency, early monies varied greatly, reflecting the multiple private institutions and central and local governments that produced them.

With so many types of money in circulation, it was often difficult to distinguish the good from the bad. Issuers quickly learned that people were less suspicious of attractive objects than plain ones, so they embellished the money with detailed pictorial elements known as vignettes.

While some of the art was primarily for eye appeal, other decorations had symbolic or local meanings. An example of 1839 scrip printed in Greensboro, for example, featured portraits of Sir Walter Raleigh along with an engraving of a modern steam engine.

Antebellum currency featured imagery related to agriculture and industry, but some bills issued by Southern states leading up to the war, and later by the Confederate States of America, showed scenes of seemingly contented  slaves at work.

Notable examples of the engraver’s art from other states are also on exhibit. These include a five-dollar “Santa Claus” note, issued by a Boston bank in 1857, and the 1837 “Elvis note,” from Philadelphia, so called by modern collectors because the central figure looks remarkably like Elvis Presley in his white jumpsuit.

The Art of North Carolina Money draws on the extensive numismatic collections of the North Carolina Collection Gallery. It will be on view through September 30, 2014.

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