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Fractional Currency from the 1800s

Updated on December 30, 2014

Fractional Currency Guide

Fractional Currency
Fractional Currency | Source

Fractional Currency

Normally, currency refers to paper money. The lowest denomination most people are familiar with is the one dollar bill. However, there was a time in the past when smaller denominations of paper money were issued.

The reason fractional currency came about was a metal shortage. Being unable to supply the needed coins, the United States government began issuing paper money in small denominations.

What Denominations were issued?

The denominations issued were three cents, five cents, ten cents, fifteen cents, twenty-five cents, and fifty cents. These notes could be used in lieu of change. They were issued from 1862 into 1876.

These notes were smaller than dollar bills, and did not wear well. Since they were not being actively collected by many people, few great specimens survived.


Images of these notes can be viewed at and appear to be authentic photographs. When using Wikipedia, one must be careful, since erroneous information can easily be added. However, in this case the photographs seem to be fine.

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Price Guide

Fractional currency is a group of collectible paper money, which appeal to those who collect paper money and to those who collect coins. Because these notes replace coins, they are collected by coin collectors. Of course, it is important to understand what you collect, and the coin books often ignore fractional currency. so, if you are to include fractional currenc in a collection, a guide for that purpose is advised.

Controversial Image

Congress failed to identify an image for the currency, so the first Superintendent of the National Currency Bureau, Spencer M. Clark added his own image. This cost him his position, and resulted in a new law prohibiting living persons from having their images on United States currency.

Quality Issues

First, these notes are very old, and were intended to circulate, so many wore out. This is unfortunate in that it limits the supply available, but great in that it makes any good pieces you own worth something. But, some quality issues are not detrimental as much as you might think. Those dark spots may have always been there. The notes were originally made from rag paper, paper that came from old, used rags, and its quality was always poor. The spots, if they are pieces of rag that did not break down well, are part of the fractional notes.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Interesting information!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 6 years ago


    • profile image

      ScootersDog 6 years ago

      Nice Lense:)