Recommendations for additional reading

Anyone interested in learning more about colonial currency can begin with the readings suggested here. The books by McCusker, Brock, and Ernst all contain lengthy bibliographies, which will lead you to many more sources.

The three basic books.

Comment: The best source for what was being used as money in the colonies and basic information about how the monetary system worked in the colonial period. It is the standard source for data on colonial exchange rates. This book is still in print, and is widely available. The book does not address the politics or history of individual colonies.

  • Leslie V. Brock, The Currency of the American Colonies 1700-1764. A Study in Colonial Finance and Imperial Relations. Arno Press, 1975, 602 pages.

Comment: This book is the best survey of the monetary history of the American colonies for the period it covers. It discusses the historical evolution of colonial currency in each of the colonies, with considerable discussion of the reactions of British Imperial authorities. The book is a lightly edited version of Brock's 1941 University of Michigan doctoral dissertation. It is likely to be found in a University library. Brock's money supply data are the most accurate of any available. Some of the money supply series published in this book were revised in Colonial Currency, Prices and Exchange Rates.

  • Joseph A. Ernst, Money and Politics in America, 1755-1775. The University of North Carolina Press, 1973, 403 pages.

Comment: This book is subtitled "A Study in the Currency Act of 1764 and the Political Economy of Revolution," which accurately describes its focus. The book is at its best when discussing the political economy of the money question. Ernst is critical of the naive use of the quantity theory in an opening chapter titled, Some Forbidding Issues. Brock's essay on Colonial Currency, Prices, and Exchange Rates was written in response to this chapter. This book is not especially difficult to find, but you may need to visit a university library.  It is currently out of print.

Studies of Particular Colonies

  • John Blanchard MacInnes, Rhode Island Bills of Public Credit, 1710-1755, Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Brown University, 1952, 659 pages.

Comment: Many colonies have been studied, but none as thoroughly as in this dissertation. An excellent piece of work, but to obtain a copy you will have to go through the Interlibrary Loan office at your local library. The good news is that Brown University Library will permit an Interlibrary Loan (not all institutions do).

Comment: Davis has been chided by modern authors for his hard money views and sympathy for a debtor-creditor interpretation of colonial monetary history, both of which reflect the times in which he wrote. Nonetheless, there is a great deal of solid scholarship in these two volumes, and no superior study of Massachusetts has yet been published. Compared to his contemporaries, Davis was temperate and balanced in his presentation, making this the best piece of work from its era. Between the original printing and the reprint edition, this book is only moderately hard to come by.

Miscellaneous and Recommended

  • Eric P. Newman and Richard G. Doty (editors), Studies on Money in Early America, The American Numismatic Society, 1976, p. 216.

Comment: A collection of essays, some on historical, some on numismatic topics.

  • John J. McCusker, How Much is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States. Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Vol 101, part 2, October 1991.

Comment: The title says it all. Finding a way to reduce 18th century money to 20th century terms still leaves one with no concrete understanding of the standard of living in colonial times. Some glimpse of the true standard of living can be had by reading Billy G. Smith, The Material Lives of Laboring Philadelphians, 1750-1800, William and Mary Quarterly, 1981, pp. 163-202 and Carl Bridenbaugh, The High Cost of Living in Boston, 1728, New England Quarterly, V (1932), pp. 800-11.

  • Andrew McFarland Davis (editor), Colonial Currency Reprints, 1682-1751, 4 volumes, Publications of the Prince Society, XXII-XXV, 1909-1911; reprinted by Augustus Kelley, 1964.

Comment: Davis reprinted dozens of monetary pamphlets and some newspaper discussions, almost all from colonial Massachusetts, the sole exception being Franklin's Modest Enquiry (1729), which pertains to Pennsylvania. Davis also wrote an introduction and commentary on the pieces he reprinted.

  • Leslie V. Brock, Manuscript for a book on Currency, Brock Collection, Accession number 10715, Microfilm reel #M1523, Alderman Library Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

Comment: After finishing his doctoral dissertation in 1941, Brock began working on a companion volume that would carry the story from 1764 to the Revolution. By the mid-1950s he had completed a first draft of the book, consisting of several hundred typed pages. In the 1960s, he composed a lengthy chapter (130 pages) on the currency debate in Massachusetts in the decade of the 1730s. None of this was ever published. However, a negative microfilm of these draft chapters is part of the Brock collection at Alderman library, and you can order a positive copy of the microfilm for the cost of reproduction and shipping. The e-mail address for special collections at the University of Virginia is

  • Curtis P. Nettles, The Money Supply of the American Colonies Before 1720, first edition 1934, University of Wisconsin Press; reprinted 1964 by Augustus M. Kelley. 300 pages.

Comment: A valuable source on the early colonial period. There is a considerable amount of material on the trade and economies of the colonies, which goes beyond a simple discussion of their currencies. This is clear from the chapter titles:
Chapter 1: England and the Spanish-American Trade
Chapter 2: England's Trade with the Southern Colonies
Chapter 3: England's Trade with New England and New York
Chapter 4: The Economic Relations of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York
Chapter 5: The Problem of Returns
Chapter 6: The English Currency and a Colonial Coinage
Chapter 7: British Payments to the Colonies
Chapter 8: Commodity Money
Chapter 9: Inflation and Foreign Coin
Chapter 10: The Beginnings of Paper Money
Conclusion: Commerce, Currency, and Credit

  • Eric P. Newman, The Early Paper Money of America, Bicentennial ed. [2d ed.], Racine, Wisconsin, 1976.

Comment: This book is an extremely useful reference for those with a numismatic interest in colonial currency. It contains images, dates of issue, and amounts issued for the entire colonial period. Newman's book is less useful for those whose interest is in the political, historical or economic issues.

  • Philip L. Mossman, Money of the American Colonies and confederation: a numismatic, economic, and historical correlation, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1993.

Comment: This book presents detailed numismatic information on the coins of the period, and is particularly strong on the subject of copper coinage. The numismatic information is supplemented with useful institutional detail, and enough history to place everything in its proper context. Politics and economics are not a central focus of the book: coverage in these areas is relatively superficial. The book contains an extensive bibliography of books and articles on related numismatic topics.

Other Miscellaneous References

Even this list is incomplete. Some of these articles and books are excellent, while others are not.

  • An Essay on Currency, Written in 1732. Charlestown: Printed and Sold by Lewis Timothy, In Church-Street. 1734. Reprinted in facsimile, Columbia, S.C., 1935.

  • Belz, Herman. "Paper Money in Colonial Massachusetts." Essex Institute Historical Collections. 101, no. 2 (April 1965): 149-163.

  • Billias, George. The Massachusetts Land Bankers. The University of Maine Bulletin, 61, no. 17 (April 1959).

  • Bordon, William. "An Address to the Inhabitants of North Carolina." Pamphlet originally published in 1746. Reprinted in Some Eighteenth Century Tracts Concerning North Carolina, edited by William K. Boyd. Spartanburg, S.C.: The Reprint Company, 1973.

  • Bronson, Henry. "A Historical Account of Connecticut Currency, Colonial Money, and Finances of the Revolution". New Haven: New Haven Colony Historical Papers, Vol. 1, 1865.

  • Bullock, Charles J. Essays on the Monetary History of the United States. Originally published by Macmillan in 1900. Reprinted New York: Greenwood Press, 1969.

  • Burstein, M. L. "Colonial Currency and Contemporary Monetary Theory: A Review Article." Explorations in Entrepreneurial History. Spring/Summer 1966, 219-233.

  • Calomiris, Charles W. "Institutional Failure, Monetary Scarcity, and the Depreciation of the Continental," Journal of Economic History, 48 (March 1988), pp. 47-68.

  • Dorfman, Joseph. The Economic Mind in American Civilization, 1606-1865. Chapter IX, "The Role of Paper Money." Originally published in 1946. Reprinted New York: Augustus Kelley, 1966, pp. 141-178.

  • Dunn, Elizabeth E. "'Grasping the Shadow': The Massachusetts currency debate, 1690-1751, New England Quarterly, 71 (March 1998)

  • Egnal, Marc M. "The Pennsylvania Economy, 1748-1762: An Analysis of Short-Run Fluctuations in the Context of Long-Run Changes in the Atlantic Trading Community" PhD Dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1974.

  • ______________. A Mighty Empire: The Origins of the American Revolution. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988.

  • Ernst, Joseph A. "Colonial Currency: A Modest Inquiry into the Uses of the Easy Chair and Meaning of the Colonial System of Freely Floating Exchange Rates." Explorations in Entrepreneurial History. 6, no. 2 (Winter 1969), 187-197.

  • ______________, "The Labourers Have been the Greatest Sufferers; the Truck System in Early Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts," in Merchant Credit and Labour Strategies in Historical Perspective, Rosemary E. Ommer, ed., Frederickton, New Brunswick: Acadiensis Press, 1990.

  • Felt, Joseph B. An Historical Account of Massachusetts Currency. Boston: Perkins and Marvin, 1839.

  • Ferguson, James E. "Currency Finance, An Interpretation of Colonial Monetary Practices." William and Mary Quarterly, 10, no. 2 (April 1953): 153-180.

  • Fernow, Berthold. "Coins and Currency of New-York" The Memorial History of New York, Vol IV, New York, 1893: 297-343.

  • Franklin, Benjamin. "Remarks and Facts Relative to the American Paper Money." In Vol. II of The Works of Benjamin Franklin, edited by Jared Sparks. Boston: Tappan and Whittemore, 1858, pp. 340-354.

  • Freiberg, Malcolm. "Thomas Hutchinson and the Province Currency." The New England Quarterly. 30, no. 2 (June 1957): 190-208.

  • Gould, Clarence P. "Money and Transportation in Maryland, 1720-1765," John Hopkins University Studies in History and Political Science, series 33, no. 1, Baltimore, 1915.

  • Hanson, John R. II. "Money in the Colonial Economy: An Extension." Economic Inquiry 17 (April 1979): 281-286.

  • __________________. "Small Notes in the American Economy." Explorations in Economic History. 17 (1980): 411-420.

  • Hemphill, John M. III. Virginia and the English Commercial System, 1689-1733: Studies in the Development of a Colonial Economy under Imperial Control. New York: Garland Publishing, 1985.

  • Jellison, Richard M. Paper Currency in Colonial South Carolina, 1703-1764. Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, 1952.

  • Kemmerer, Donald L. "A History of Paper Money in Colonial New Jersey, 1668-1775." Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society. 74 (1956): 107-144.

  • Keyes, Annis J. New Jersey Paper Currency. Masters Thesis, Yale University, 1927.

  • Lester, Richard A. Monetary Experiments, Early American and Recent Scandinavian. Originally published Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1939. Reprinted New York: Augustus Kelley, 1970.

  • Letwin, William. "Monetary Practices and Theory of the North American Colonies during the 17th and 18th Centuries," Printed in La Moneta Nell'Economia Europa, edited by Vera Barbagli Bagnoli. LeMonnier, 1981.

  • Marcotte, Ivan. Colonial South Carolina, A Quantity Theoretic Perspective. Ph.D. dissertation, University of South Carolina, 1989.

  • McCallum, Bennett. "Money and Prices in Colonial America: A New Test of Competing Theories," Journal of Political Economy, 100 (February 1992)

  • McCusker, John J. and Menard, Russell R. The Economy of British America, 1607-1789. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.
    Note: A excellent survey of early American economic history, with only a brief discussion of colonial currency.

  • McLeod, Frank F. "The History of Fiat Money and Currency Inflation in New England from 1620 to 1789." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 12, no. 2. Philadelphia, 1898.

  • Metz, William D. Politics and Finance in Massachusetts, 1713-1741. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1945.

  • Michener, Ronald. "Fixed Exchange Rates and the Quantity Theory in Colonial America." Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series. 27 (Fall, 1987): .pp. 233-308.

  • ______________. Comment on Charles W. Calomiris, "Institutional Failure, Monetary Scarcity, and the Depreciation of the Continental," Journal of Economic History, 48 (September 1988), pp. 682-92.

  • Mitten, Cathy. The New England Paper Money Tradition and the Massachusetts Land Bank of 1740, Columbia University Master's Thesis, 1979.

  • Nettles, Curtis. "The Beginnings of Money in Connecticut." Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters. 23 (January 1928): 1-28.

  • Newell, Margaret E. "A Revolution in Economic Thought: Currency and Development in Eighteenth Century Massachusetts." In Entrepreneurs: The Boston Business Community, 1700-1850, Conrad Edick Wright and Katheryn P. Viens (eds.), Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1997, pp. 1-22.

  • ______________. From Dependency to Independence: Economic Revolution in Colonial New England, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.

  • Phillips, Henry. Historical Sketches of the Paper Currency of the American Colonies. Originally published in 1865, reprinted Augustus M. Kelley: Clifton, New Jersey, 1972.

  • Potter, Elisha and Rider, Sidney. "Some Account of the Bills of Credit or Paper Money of Rhode Island." Published in Rhode Island Historical Tracts, no. 8, Providence, R.I.: Providence Press Company, 1880.

  • Pownall, Thomas. The Administration of the Colonies. 4th Edition, London, 1768.

  • Purvis, Thomas. Proprietors, Patronage, and Paper Money - Legislative Politics in New Jersey, 1703-1776. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1986.

  • Sachs, William S. The Business Outlook in the Northern Colonies, 1750-1775. Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1957.

  • Scott, Kenneth. Counterfeiting in Colonial America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1957.

  • Smith, Bruce. "Money and Inflation in Colonial Massachusetts." Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Quarterly Review, Winter 1984: 1-14.

  • ____________ "American Colonial Monetary Regimes: The Failure of the Quantity Theory and Some Evidence in Favor of an Alternate View." The Canadian Journal of Economics, 18 (August 1985): 531-564.

  • ____________ "Some Colonial Evidence on Two Theories of Money: Maryland and the Carolinas." Journal of Political Economy 93 (December 1985): 1178-1211.
  • Sosin, Jack M. "Imperial Regulation of Colonial Paper Money, 1764-1773," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1964, pp. 174-198.

  • Stark, Bruce P. "The Election of 1740 in Connecticut." Connecticut History (January 1981): pp. 7-18.

  • ____________. "The New London Society and Connecticut Politics, 1732-1740", In Connecticut History (January 1984), pp. 1-21.

  • ____________. "'A Factious Spirit': Constitutional Theory and Political Practice in Connecticut, C. 1740." William and Mary Quarterly, (June 1990) pp. 391-410.

  • Thayer, Theodore. "The Land Bank System in the American Colonies." Journal of Economic History. 13 (Spring 1953): 145-159.

  • Weiss, Roger. "The Issue of Paper Money in the American Colonies, 1720 - 1774." Journal of Economic History. 30 (December 1970): 770-784.

  • _____________ "The Colonial Monetary Standard of Massachusetts." Economic History Review. 27 (November 1974): 577-592.

  • West, Roger C. "Money in the Colonial American Economy." Economic Inquiry. 16 (January 1978): 1-15.

  • Wicker, Elmus. "Colonial Monetary Standards Contrasted: Evidence from the Seven Years' War." Journal of Economic History. 45 (December 1985): 869-884.

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