Henderson County, Kentucky
The early settlers of Kentucky experienced a difficulty common to all newly settled countries – that of making “change”. The skins of raccoons and other animals constituted the first currency. It was not long, however, before the tide of immigration brought in a small supply of silver coin. This was usually in the shape of Spanish milled dollars, and did not relieve the necessity for small change. The ingenuity of the people hit upon this expedient: The dollars were cut into four equal parts or quarters, worth twenty-five cents each, and these again divided into eighths or twelve-and-a-half-cent pieces. But it was work of time and skill to thus make change; and it soon happened that the dollars were cut into five quarters or ten eighths – or rather into pieces which passed for those sums – and this practice was justified on the like ground that toll is allowed millers, vis, to pay the expense of coinage. Mr. Charles CIST, in his Miscellany of Pioneer History says “this last description of change was nicknamed sharp shins, from the wedge shape, and speedily became as redundant, and of course, as unpopular, as dimes were in 1841, when they ceased to pass eight or nine for a dollar.” He remembered, as late as 1806, that the business house in Philadelphia in which he was an apprentice received over one hundred pounds of cut silver brought on by a Kentucky merchant, and which was then sent on a dray to the United States Mint for recoinage, greatly to the loss and vexation of the Kentuckian. Smaller sums than 121/2 cents were given out, by the retailers of goods, in pins, needles, writing paper, etc. Mr. BARTLE, who kept store on the corner of Broadway and Lower Market Streets, in Cincinnati, for the convenience of making change, had a barrel of copper coins brought out from Philadelphia, in 1794, which so exasperated his brother storekeepers that they were scarcely restrained from mobbing him.
The writer of this remembers hearing a gentleman tell that, when a small boy in 1806, in Fayette County, Kentucky, needing a spelling book, he was required to stop school for a day, and “drop corn,” to enable him to buy one – at nightfall receiving as his wages a “cut ninepence,” of the pinched kind last above referred to.
The suspension of specie payments in 1837 is memorable for the entire disappearance of silver change, and the substitution of paper promises-to-pay or “shinplasters,” in amounts usually less than one dollar, issued by cities, towns, villages, corporations, merchants and traders of all kinds, and even by coffee-house keepers. But when, in 1862, the exigencies of civil war demanded a substitute for the retired silver change the more fortunate expedient was adopted of confining the issue of fractional currency or small notes entirely to the General Government – thus giving them all the uniformity of value, freedom of the circulation, and certainty of redemption of the larger national currency, the legal tender and national – bank notes.
“The History of Henderson”, Page 106, Editor Frieda Jacobs Dannheiser and Co-Editor Donald Hazelwood.
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS