Early Paper Money of America / Continental Currency / 1775 May 10
$3,000,000 ($2,000,000 and $1,000,000) in Continental Currency payable in Spanish milled Dollars was approved by the June 22-23 and July 25, 1775 Resolutions of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, thus creating the first federally issued money. The July 25, 1775 Resolution related exclusively to authorizing $30 bills. The entire emission, which was put into circulation in August 1775, was to pay the initial expenses for the American Revolution and was to be redeemed with taxes to be levied separately by each of the 13 United Colonies on a quota basis.
Printed by Hall and Sellers of Philadelphia from a combination of cast border cuts, emblem cuts, nature prints, and hand set type. Thick rag paper containing blue fibers and mica flakes was used on all except $20 bills and was made at the Ivy Mills, Chester County, Pennsylvania. This paper had previously been developed and used for Pennsylvania paper money.
The $1 through $8 denominations of Continental Currency were printed with 8 faces and 8 backs impressed on each side of a sheet, creating a double sheet of two sets of eight bills each. The $30 bills were printed by inserting their face and back forms into one position after another on the double sheet form and removing one of the smaller denominations at a time. This minimized the number of impressions required to print the issue. The $20 bills were printed individually on thin and weak white paper furnished by Benjamin Franklin, the left side of which was polychromed by the marbling process. [Jake Benson is of the opinion that notes were printed in rows, not individually - see the Benson article cited below.] The $20 bills had no border cuts and were wider and shorter than the other denominations.
The $20 and $30 bills had emblems on the back instead of nature prints. All nature prints used on the backs of the $1 through $8 denominations had previously been used or prepared for use on Pennsylvania paper money. These prints had been developed by a nature printing process invented by Benjamin Franklin. David Rittenhouse sent an invoice to Congress for $48 for 36 border cuts, but the actual engraving was, according to art historian William Dunlap, in 1834, to have been performed by James Smither who had cut and signed borders for Pennsylvania currency of similar style. However at the end of a sheet of paper which listed 27 book titles in David Rittenhouse's handwriting there are preliminary sketches of three side borders for the $30 May 10, 1775 Continental Currency. They are boxes within ruled lines. (See illustration). The first contains only "Continental Currency" in fancy script. The second contains "Continental Currency xxx Thirty Dollars" in fancy script. The last border design contains THE UNITED COLONIES in capitals with flourishes on several letters. Comparing these sketches to the border designs as finally adopted it appears that the artist who made the adopted borders was the same artist who did the sketches. Although THE UNITED COLONIES on the artist's sketch is the width of a side border it is in identical style to the wide top and bottom borders finally adopted. Thus it appears that David Rittenhouse did engrave four border cuts for each of the nine denominations of the May 10, 1775 Continental Currency, which had border cuts and for which he was paid. Probably William Dunlap was in error when he wrote that Smither "engraved the blocks for the continental money". Perhaps Smither did other artistic work on Continental Currency than the first set of borders.
Most of the emblem and motto cuts were copied from an emblem book by Dr. Joachim Camerarius, found in Franklin's library. To aid in counterfeit detection unsigned bills and sheets of bills printed on pink paper (except the $20 which was on blue paper) were distributed to officials for comparison purposes. With few exceptions, one signer used red ink and one signer used brown ink on this and subsequent issues. Bills were numbered in dark red ink. Signers, emblems, mottoes, and nature prints are subsequently included in this section. Counterfeits of this and subsequent issues are described in the Appendix.
$1 [49,000] ▷DT◁
$2 [49,000] ▷DT◁
$3 [49,000] ▷DT◁
$4 [49,000] ▷DT◁
$5 [49,000] ▷DT◁
$6 [49,000] ▷DT◁
$7 [49,000] ▷DT◁
$8 [49,000] ▷DT◁
$20 [11,800] ▷DT◁
$30 [33.333] ▷DT◁ ▷CF◁
See also "Curious Colors of Currency: Security Marbling on Financial Instruments During the Long Eighteenth Century" by Jake Benson (American Journal of Numismatics 31, American Numismatic Society, 2020).