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The California Clam Shell Scrip Currency of 1933: Crescent City and Pismo Beach?s anomaly in an era of Banknote Scrip


Book Summary

The California Clam Shell Scrip of 1933 is one of the most unique forms of scrip currency – a substitute for legal tender, often issued as credit in the form of paper currency or tokens – to arise during the Great Depression. Originating in Crescent City and Pismo Beach almost simultaneously during the Bank Holiday of 1933, this scrip currency was produced by local merchants to combat the lack of cash available during the U.S. financial intuitions’ hiatus. This paper presents the results of fieldwork and archival searches conducted in both Crescent City and Pismo Beach, California. The two objectives of this research were first, to aid in understanding the historical narrative that led to the currency’s creation and adoption and second, to document and digitally record the Clam Shell Scrip currently remaining before it is lost to time. Therefore, the research is presented in four main sections. One, the pre-colonial Native Americans’ use of shell-based mediums of exchange in commerce along the West Coast. These currencies included the use of Clam Shells that where minted on the California Channel Islands and used as a standard of wealth measurement throughout the Santa Barbara region. Two, the historical narrative of the creation and adoption of Crescent City and Pismo Beach Clam Shell Scrip based on a 1959 account which is tested against remaining 1933 Clam Shell Scrip, newspaper articles and auction records. Three, the digital documentation and further examination of 19 pieces of Clam Shell Scrip from the Pismo Beach City Hall Collection, which suggests backdating of early issues by merchants in Pismo Beach. Four, the 80th Anniversary Series that was issued in 2013 by local merchants and provides a modern-day comparative to the production and spread of the Clam Shell Scrip currency that primary sources cannot. Therefore, providing a comprehensive narrative of the Clam Shell Scrip currency, its production and adoption methods in 1933 and 2013, and a digital record of the pieces that remain today.

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