Scooby Doo and the Tale of the Confederate Cash (Part 1)
Q: Scooby Doo has an episode where Scooby wins 1 million dollars except it turns out it’s old “worthless” confederate cash. Kids and I are curious now about its worth and history. Would 1 million in confederate cash be worth anything today whether as a collectors item or anything?
A Historian’s Take (Part 1): “Before I go into your points, we need to understand how the monetary system in the US/CS worked. Unlike today, the US was using a bimetallic standard, mainly gold and silver, to help with exchange. After 1870, the US became part of the Gold Standard – set up to facilitate international trade. Nowadays, we use a fiat currency system, where essentially the bills are not worth anything other than what the Federal Reserve says it is worth. But before the US was removed from the Gold standard in 1971, usually every dollar had a ratio of gold and silver that the bearer of that bill could withdraw from a bank, often in the form of coins. During times of trouble, valuables are hoarded, often causing coin shortages or other economic issues I won’t dive into here. If you look at older notes, and especially on notes of this era, the language ‘payable to the bearer in silver [or gold]’ appears on the bills. The value is in the metal of the coin, not necessarily the bill.
“The bill is valuable because you have the ability to go to the bank and get its value in valuable gold or silver. But, since these are troubling times, everyone has run to the bank to exchange their bills for coins. No coins = worthless piece of paper. Now, let’s dig into legal tender – what is legal to make payments with? Legal tender is something that must be accepted as payment, by law. The government decides this and it can be changed. This is important – paper money was not legal tender at this point in US history, only coins issued by the US government. Bills were issued by banks, not the government, so the government had no obligation to accept these notes. The bills generally need to be backed by hard assets, such as gold or silver. If the bank is not good for the payment, the bill is worthless. To put it more generally, at this time period, the bills are more of an obligation to honor a payment in gold or silver to the holder, as long as the bank’s store of coins hold out.”