Confederate banknote (recto)
Alongside establishing a new government and writing a new Constitution, the Confederate States also issued a new monetary system at the outbreak of the Civil War. The Confederate dollar was not backed by any hard assets, thus the whole system was based on a promise to pay the bearer at some point in the future when the war ended. This was an unstable process and Confederate coinage and banknotes became increasingly worthless as inflation rose throughout the conflict.
By 1865, the whole monetary system was near total collapse under crippling inflation levels. Various versions of banknotes were produced depicting the Confederate states, Southern scenes and prominent politicians. They were colloquially known as 'greybacks' because of their colour (as opposed to the Union 'greenbacks'). By the end of the conflict, the Confederacy had issued around $1.7 billion of currency and the banknotes, including counterfeits that were also widely produced, are still valued as collectible items.
These two images show the recto and verso of a $50 Confederate bill held by the Library. Dated 17th February 1864, it features President Jefferson Davis on the front and a rather plain blue reverse. The design is familiar when compared to current U.S. dollar bills. To read more about the Library’s Confederate banknote, please visit the Americas Studies Collection blog.