Old money

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

ocmulgee_fiveUsually when you hear the phrase “old money,” the speaker is referring to people and families with established, long-held, inherited wealth.

Some old money, however, is just that, money from long ago.

I spotted this nineteenth-century five-dollar bill in a display of old money in the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The long-extinct Ocmulgee Bank issued this $5 note in what looks to me like 1859.

The picture in the middle, above the word Ocmulgee, shows a wagon-load of cotton being delivered to a dock. In the background is a steamboat. I assume the artist was thinking of the Ocmulgee River, which flows through Macon. Area farms shipped cotton downriver, so this vignette reflects what truly happened in Macon.

In mid-1857, the US suffered a downturn in the economy that is often described as a panic. The South, however, suffered less than other regions of the country, because the cotton crop provided sufficient revenue to stabilize the regional economy, although there was considerable commercial distress. Nevertheless, four of nineteen Georgia banks failed during the panic.

Now, of course, banks in the USA do not issue their own currency. A federal banking act that took effect in July 1866 made it too costly for banks to continue to use non-federal currency in the USA, making bills like this historical documents.

Read more about the Panic of 1857 in Wikipedia here, or about currency in general here.