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JIM:...but it spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express!

The following account of frontier bartering, although somewhat romanticized, makes interesting reading. (It doesn’t pertain directly to Adair County, but it did spend the night at a well-known motel chain, thus adding gravitas, panache, and a veneer of respectability to a curriculum vitae of otherwise questionable origin and content.) The article (source unattributed) appeared in the October 5, 1910 edition of the Adair County News.
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By JIM

Legal tender

In this age of progress and of fixed system of coinage and currency–the age of dollars, halves, quarters, dimes, nickels, to say nothing of the little brown penny, which is the most insignificant little piece that we Americans will countenance–few people pause to think of the olden days, when money was coined in so many forms that it required unceasing watchfulness to keep abreast of it.


Children did not learn to count it in their lisping days then. It was a big part of their early education to be able to know the value of the many kinds of money that circulated even in Kentucky, in the days of the coon skin, mink skin, hogshead of tobacco, wolf hide, possom belt or otter coat.

A century of time has not passed since a banking institution was an unknown quantity in Kentucky. Actual money was not needed to keep the wheels of commerce revolving. A coon skin, otter skin, a ‘possum or mink hide, or the shaggy coat of a wolf or a wild cat, was legal tender.

As late as 1812 these commodities were worth a fixed amount and played the part the silver dollars, halves, quarters and dimes do to-day. A hogshead of tobacco was a “big piece” of money in those days, and it was not an unusual sight to see a farmer, astride a horse or mule, or driving a slow-poking ox and dragging in his wake a hogshead of tobacco, with an improvised axle at each end, the hogshead rolling on the ground behind him.

He came from miles out in the wild rural country and stopped at any store his fancy dictated. He “swapped” his tobacco for the necessities of life, such as were not produced in his own home. He traded it, at a fixed rate, for coffee, sugar, calico, and other useful things that were for barter in stores. It was no unusual sight to see a trader loaded to the guards with pelts–all having a fixed common value. These he exchanged for what he desired, and in turn they circulated instead of a better money.

* * *

In addition to the barter items listed in the foregoing article, the “many kinds of money” circulating included coinage from England, Spain, France, and Mexico, as well as from the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, and South American countries, among others. The foreign-struck gold, silver, and copper pieces served as legal tender alongside US-struck coins until the late 1850s. Also, until 1856, the “little brown penny” wasn’t so little. As a matter of fact, it was larger in diameter than a quarter, and the half-cent coin, also minted by the US until 1857, was only slightly smaller than a quarter. – Jim.


This story was posted on 2016-07-10 07:54:22
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