Massachusetts: May 25, 1775 - Soldier notes
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    Massachusetts Currency

    May 25, 1775 - Soldier notes

    For the twenty five year period since 1750 no paper money had been printed in Massachusetts because of severe restrictions imposed by the British Parliament (see previous section). However in 1775 events required immediate independent and decisive measures be taken. Following the engagements at Lexington and Concord on the 19th of April, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts attempted to raise an army. On May 20th the congress authorized an emission of £25,998 in paper currency to be used as advance pay for recruits and known as "Soldier Notes" in contemporary legislative documents. These interesting notes were not only the first emission to be printed by Paul Revere but they were also the bills paid to those soldiers who, within a week or two of receiving these notes as pay, found themselves on Breed's Hill battling British regulars in what is now know as the Battle of Bunker Hill. (A WELL PRESERVED EXAMPLE FOLLOWS THIS INTRODUCTION).

    The May 20th legislative authorization ordered a committee of Colonel Jedediah Foster, Major Eleazer Brooks and Dr. Samuel Holton to confer with the printer, Paul Revere on the specifics of the emission. The wording to appear on the notes and related details were finalized by the committee within five days. On the notes themselves the date is given as May 25, 1775.

    It was decided that each soldier would be offered 20s in coin as advanced pay or, if they would accept it, they could take 40s in the newly printed notes, that could be redeemed for hard cash after May 25, 1776, with the bonus of 6% interest.

    Clearly speed was paramount. By June 1st Henry Gardner, the Massachusetts Receiver General, stated he had several hundred notes ready to deliver and hoped to pay at least one regiment per day. On June 3rd Revere was asked: " attend the business of stamping the notes for the soldiers, all the ensuing night, if he can, and to finish them with the greatest despatch possible." Then on June 4th two members of congress were: "...appointed to attend Mr. Revere whilst he is striking off the notes for advance pay to the soldiers, night and day, till they are all struck off."

    The notes were engraved from three copperplates, each plate printing a combination of denominations that added up to 40s per sheet. Clearly this was done so that each sheet would equal one soldier's pay. The plates are extant in the Massachusetts State Archives. One plate was used for the 18s, 12s and 10s notes, this was a cut down recycled plate that had originally been used on the other side for Revere's famous print of the Boston Massacre. Another copperplate was used for the 20s, 14s and 6s notes. Again this was a cut down reused plate that had a scene of Harvard College on the reverse. The final plate contained the 16s, 15s and 9s notes. Like the others this was a recycled plate, previously used for an engraving of Samuel Willard. These three plates were again reused for a small supplemental emission totaling £3,748 on July 1, 1775, with only the date at the top of the notes being recut. The May date, to the right of the serial number was rubbed out and the July date was incised directly below the serial number (for the July 8th notes the May 25th date was retained in the body of the text!). Thus the extant plates now bear the July 1st date rather than the date of the much larger May 25th issue.

    On June 5th three men were appointed to number the notes: John Pickering Jr. numbered notes struck from the first plate, Samuel Phillips numbered notes from the second plate and Ichabod Goodwin numbered notes from the third plate. Originally Abraham Fuller countersigned the notes but on June 2nd when he needed to attend to more pressing business Colonel Ezra Richmond was deputized to take his place. Then on the 5th of June, Colonel Jedediah Foster was appointed to assist with countersigning the sheets containing the 20s, 14s and 6s notes. On June 14th Samuel Thacher replaced Samuel Phillips and Colonel James Prescott replaced Colonel Foster. On June 16 (the Battle of Bunker Hill began that evening), Deacon Thomas Plympton replaced Colonel Richmond countersigning the smaller denomination notes.

    Revere presented the Provincial Congress an invoice for the printing of the notes on June 22nd. This included the costs associated with the May 25th emission as well as the cost of printing a fiscal document, namely a receipt form, or what we would call a bond, used by the government to record money loaned to them at 6% interest. The total expenses were £6 per plate for four plates (one for the bond and three for the soldier notes) and £48 6s8d for printing at a rate of £3 6s8d per thousand sheets, for a total bill of £72 6s8d. On July 1st the congress decided to pay Revere £50 for his services. The Provincial Congress was dissolved on July 19th and was replaced by a new House of Representatives. The House paid Revere for the July 8th and subsequent emissions at a fairer rate than he had obtained from the congress.

    The May 25th emission consisted of indented bills having an acanthus leaf design on the left with the monogram MBC for Massachusetts Bay Colony. Below the design the note stated, "American Paper." The paper was watermarked with a crown over the initials G R for Georgius Rex, referring to King George III. The notes were completely engraved except for the handwritten serial number and signatures. Near the top, to the right of and just below the serial number, the day and year of issue appeared in white numbers on oval or rectangular black backgrounds that occur in different combinations on the various denomination. Redeemed notes were canceled by having x's placed over Gardner's signature or were hole punched (The example in the Massachusetts Historical Society has two holes punched along the upper border). The backs remained blank. There were 4,333 examples of each denomination printed except for the 6s and 20s which had 4,460 printed. Denominations printed were: 6s, 9s, 10s, 12s, 14s, 15s, 16s, 18s and 20s.


    12s               Serial Number: 3584                 MA 05/25/75

    Signers: Abraham Fuller, Henry Gardner.

    Size: 77 x 172mm.

    Comments: Engraved and printed by Paul Revere. This is one of the denominations printed on the back side of copperplate originally used for Revere's print of the Boston Massacre. In this denomination both the day and year appear in white in balck oval backgrounds (some denominations use rectangles) Much of the border design was left intact in this indented example. The monogram MBC for Massachusetts Bay Colony is virtually complete in the center of the acanthus leaves and all but the A in "American paper" is visible. This example does not have a watermark. As is usual with this issue the signature of the Receiver General was X canceled when the note was redeemed. Click here to view the blank back.

    Provenance: EANA mail bid auction 04/26/97 lot 239. Purchased through the Robert H. Gore, Jr. Numismatic Endowment.