Cashing in on history's dollars

Cashing in on history's dollars

January 26th, 2010 by Pam Sohn in News

It may look like oversized Monopoly money with "Chattanooga" printed on it, but the bills are the real thing, and they're almost 150 years old.

What's more, "Chattanooga" money was quite common in its time.

"The only paper money in the United States (at that time) was issued by maybe 10,000 banks that put out their own individual money," said Dennis Schafluetzel, a Chattanooga coin collector who has researched local money.

In researching the bank notes, Mr. Schafluetzel and his researching and writing partner, Chattanooga coin collector Tom Carson, have published an e-book on CD, showing all the known varieties of Chattanooga money. In the process, the two have become known as the country's recognized experts on Chattanooga and Tennessee money.

During the Civil War, with blockades creating a shortage of paper, some bills were issued on the backs of other currencies from banks that had gone bankrupt or been taken over by one or another army, Mr. Carson said.


* Title: Chattanooga Money

* What does it tell: The history of Chattanooga using images of Chattanooga notes and bills to illustrate the times from the 1830s to the 1930s.

* Where to find it:

After the war, the bank notes and other currencies issued by large industry groups such as mining interests or other businesses that had "company stores" were largely worth nothing.

"That's why they were saved (to find today)," Mr. Schafluetzel said.

Now collectors are assigning the bills a different value. Some are worth as much as $2,000, others only as much as $30, Mr. Carson said.

Jim Ogden, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park historian, said the little-known money -- and similar currencies from banks and organizations in Northwest Georgia -- helps reflect how complex the era was.

"We have a tendency to simplify the time and romanticize it," he said. "But if you were on the street with a fistful of this currency (from one bank or another) you might think you had $25, but maybe you didn't."

Just before the Civil War, the country was in recession, Mr. Ogden said, but the Chattanooga area, growing fast because of the railroads, had new banks and businesses springing up.

The most common North Georgia currencies came from Western Atlanta Railroad, which was owned by the state of Georgia and had its northern terminus in Chattanooga, he said. There also were a number of currencies from banks in Rome, then the largest and fastest-growing city in the region.

Staff photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press Chattanooga money from the collection of Tom Carson and Dennis Schafluetzel was printed before the Civil War in 1860. This $20 note is worth between $300 to $400 as a collectors item.

Staff photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press...

Still, as first the recession and then the war reshaped both the economy and the local governments, one bank or organization after another went out of business. When it did, its currency lost value.

But there still are mysteries about the money.

"There's a lot still to learn," Mr. Ogden said of the Chattanooga, Tennessee and North Georgia currencies. "For some of these currencies, we don't know a lot about the organizations that issued them or the people behind them."

Ken Rentzsch, of Hixson, is a member of the Chattanooga Civil War Roundtable, a club where Mr. Carson and Mr. Schafluetzel recently made a presentation about the currency and their collection. He said he was fascinated to learn about the "Chattanooga" money.

"It's just amazing," he said. "I had no idea that this happened here."