user_95183's Blog

28 Nov 2021

Fractional Currency

Paper Money-U.S. | user_95183

Fractional Currency were currency notes made from 1862 - 1876 with a denomination less than one dollar. The series has 5 issues, each with different designs. Fractional Currency comes in denominations of 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, and even 3 cent and 15 cent bills. There are many things to know about these notes, so let's dive into the rich history of fractional currency notes.

The History

In 1861, the Civil War was at its peak in the United States, and it was unclear whether the Confederate or Union Troops would win. This made people worry that the war would continue for a long time and the government would be forced to create paper currency to pay off the war debt. The problem with this was that paper had no value and it would later be worthless. Because coins had a melt value close to their face value, people started hoarding coins because their value would stay strong. At first, people hoarded gold and silver coins, but later they even stored away copper cents. They kept hoarding and hoarding until almost no coins were left in circulation. The economy fell and merchants and businesses were unable to pay out change to customers. This forced the government to create paper money with a face value of less than one dollar. No one would hoard these, and it would keep the economy steady.

The idea of fractional currency first surfaced when the Treasurer of the United States, General Francis Elias Spinner glued a couple postage stamps to a piece of paper. Eventually, the ideamade it to Congress, and President Abraham Lincoln signed the Postage Currency Act on July 17, 1862.

Fractional Currency Issues

The Fractional Currency series has 5 issues, each with different designs. The designs got more complicated over time to prevent counterfeits. The quality of the paper also improved over the 14 years of issue.

First Issue

The first issue of fractional currency was called postage currency because of its similarity to postage stamps. It was issued from August of 1862 - May of 1863. All designs for the first issue of fractional currency replicated the design for posted stamps. The 5 cent bill features a single bust of George Washington and is a tan color. The 10 cent bill also displays a single bust of Washington, but it is a light green color. Both the 25 and 50 cent bills have 5 portraits of George Washington, but the 25 cent is golden and the 50 cent is green.

Second Issue

The second issue of fractional currency was printed from October 1863 - February 1867. This issue had a more complicated and unique design. All of the denominations, 5 cent, 10 cent, 25 cent, and 50 cent, had the same design and color. They all had a bust portrait of George Washington with an oval bronze overprint. The only difference between the designs was that the reverses had different colors, the 5 cent was gold, the 10 cent was green, the 25 cent was maroon, and the 50 cent was light red.

Third Issue

The third issue of fractional currency was printed from December 1864 - August 1869. In the third issue, the designs are much more diverse and it even introduces the only 3 cent fractional currency. The 3 cent design features a small portrait of George Washington facing right. The 5 cent bill pictures Spencer M. Clark, the superintendent of the National Currency Bureau. As for the 10 cent design, it is also a bust of George Washington, but it is a larger bust and he is facing right. The last 2 bills in the third issue are the 25 cent and the 50 cent, showing the Treasury Secretary William P. Fessenden and the U.S. Treasurer F.E. Spinner respectively. Even the reverse designs were different, all showing different ways to display the denominations and having different phrases.

Fourth Issue

The fourth issue of fractional currency was printed from July 1869 - February 1875. The fourth issue introduces the first 15 cent denomination coin or note in U.S. history. There is also some variety in the designs. The 10 cent bill features a bust of Liberty and the first 15 cent bill has a bust of Columbia in an oval frame. The 25 cent denomination brings back another bust of George Washington. In the fourth issue, there are actually three designs. One has a bust of Abraham Lincoln, another has a portrait of Edwin M. Stanton, and the final one features Samuel Dexter. The reverse designs are all similar, but are slightly different.

Fifth Issue

The last issue of fractional currency is the fifth issue, printed from February 1874 - February 1876. There are only three denominations in the fifth issue, 10 cent, 25 cent, and 50 cent and all have different designs. The 10 cent currency shows a bust of the Treasury Secretary William M. Meredith. As for the 25 cent and the 50 cent, they have busts of Robert J. Walker and William H. Crawford respectively. The reverse designs are all somewhat plain and boring, but they are different.

Fractional Currency Shields

Fractional Currency Shields were produced by the Treasury and given to banks to help identify counterfeit bills in 1866 and 1867. When the bank received fractional currency, the bank would look at the cardboard shield display to help identify counterfeits. The shield is made of 39 notes from the first three issues of fractional currency. 20 fronts and 19 backs show on the display of notes glued to cardboard in the shape of a shield. There are 3 types of shields, and all are very rare. There are 200 - 400 gray shields, 20 - 25 pink shields, and 10 - 14 green shields. All command thousands of dollars.


Fractional currency is clearly a very unique and interesting piece of numismatic history. There is so much to know about this amazing series and lots of ways to collect it. You can get every denomination in one issue, you could try to get a complete set of all denominations from every issue, or you could simply just randomly pick a few here and there. I hope after reading this brief overview of fractionals, you will start to collect this series today.




2022 Guide Book of United States Paper Money



Level 6

Nice blog! Interesting! ; )


Level 5

Wow! Thanks for sharing! I don’t own any old US paper money, but I might try collecting some of these! 🙂

AC coin$

Level 6

Woow ! Great information that líne is intreresting for collecting y paper money . Good Work. That is beautiful ..


Level 7

Its a pleasure to read. Thanks for bringing that part of our history with currency.


Level 6

Nicely done. A lot to learn in your new blog. Thanks.


Level 5

Very informative. I don't collect fractional or paper notes in general. The artwork and designs are really interesting to look at and learn about. Just never wanted to collect paper money.

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