Making Money: Currency in the Confederate States

iStock/mj0007
iStock/mj0007

When the Civil War began, the Confederacy quickly found itself facing a pressing issue: fighting a protracted war is really, really expensive. Unlike their Union counterparts, the Confederate states didn’t boast vast reserves of money and precious metals, either. With a Union naval blockade diminishing the lucrative international cotton trade, the Confederacy needed a way to raise some quick cash.

The Confederacy could have gone on a taxation rampage to drum up some funds, but the Southern states weren’t exactly keen on having a national government, even a Confederate one, collecting big taxes. Plus, there wasn’t any infrastructure in place to support mass taxation. Instead, the Confederacy started printing its own money.

As short term solutions go, printing your own cash is a fairly elegant one. You don’t have to levy any unpopular taxes, and as long as people will accept and use the money as a medium for trade, you’re in good shape.

Of course, in the long term, simply setting up a printing press and cranking out money without a comprehensive monetary policy and financial system in place can be a truly terrible idea. The Confederate notes didn’t have any gold, silver, or anything else backing them; instead, they promised to be redeemable for their face value after a certain period of time, say six months or two years, “after the ratification of a treaty of peace between the Confederate States and the United States of America.”

While currencies don’t necessarily have to be backed by anything tangible to be successful – just ask the euro or the dollar - astute readers have already noticed the rub in this system: the bills would only be redeemable if there were still a Confederacy around to cash them after the ratification of a peace treaty. If the Union came out on top, the Confederate money would be worthless. In addition to this gamble about the war’s outcome, the Confederacy kickstarted inflation in its states by continuing to print more and more of the currency. In a lesson straight out of freshman economics, as the supply of Confederate bills shot up, their value crashed.

By the time the Confederacy dissolved on May 5, 1865, the currency was already effectively worthless. The combination of the inflation that had kicked in as the Confederacy kept printing more money and Southerners’ growing skepticism about the continued existence of their breakaway government cratered the currency. At the war’s end, the value of 100 Confederate dollars had plummeted to $1.76, which equates to a rate of inflation of around 9,000 percent.

When the South failed to rise again (at least in Confederate form), many Southerners were left sitting on giant piles of worthless currency from a defunct country. Tough luck, to be sure, but what they may not have known was that they could just have taken a voyage to Germany to recover some of their lost value. On May 30, 1909, The New York Times ran a story under the headline “CONFEDERATE MONEY TAKEN: German Shopkeepers Apparently Ignorant That Civil War Is Over.”

According to the story, many merchants, hoteliers, and café proprietors in Berlin were still accepting Confederate cash that hadn’t been worth its face value in over four decades. The American consulate in Berlin had been fending off German businessmen who were trying to exchange their notes from, say, the Bank of Richmond for German currency. Whoops. The article closed with the line “[S]ome of [the merchants] have left the consulate convinced that the United States Treasury has really ceased payment and is ashamed to admit it.”

The Germans eventually wised up, but apparently this question still comes up from time to time. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing feels compelled to explicitly state on its website that “Confederate States Notes were not produced by the BEP and are not obligations of the United States Government.”

Just because you can’t take your Confederate money to the bank or use it to pay off a parking ticket doesn’t mean it’s worthless, though. There’s a collector’s market for the bills that can be quite lucrative. While most bills probably aren’t valuable enough to pay Stonewall Jackson’s salary, a quick scan of eBay auctions shows that even the rattiest examples of small-denomination bills regularly sell for over $10. Mint, uncirculated bills in higher denominations can fetch hundreds of dollars at auction.

How Much Are You Spending on Streaming Services? This Handy Calculator Can Tell You

LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images
LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images

With the recent debut of both Disney+ and Apple TV+, not to mention upcoming launches for HBO Max, NBC’s Peacock, and more, streaming services are officially coming for cable television’s throne—and might sneakily empty your bank account while they're at it.

While a monthly fee of $10 to $15 seems easy enough to justify if you’re willing to sacrifice a burrito bowl or fancy cocktail once a month, the little voice in the back of your head is probably whispering, “but it still adds up.” To find out just how much, MarketWatch created a calculator that will not only tell you how much you’re spending on streaming services every month; it’ll also add up the lifetime cost of all those entertainment expenses.

The calculator covers Netflix, CBS All Access, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Sling TV, Disney+, Apple TV+, and YouTube TV, and it also includes a whole host of add-ons that you might not even have realized were available. Through Amazon Prime, for example, you can subscribe to HBO, Showtime, and other premium channels—but there are also more niche options like Hallmark Movies Now and NickHits (with iCarly, The Fairly OddParents, and other Nickelodeon classics).

As you check off services and add-ons, you’ll see your monthly bill on the right side of the total box, and the lifetime cost—which accounts for 50 years of streaming, adjusted for inflation—will balloon before your eyes on the left side. Below that, there’s an even larger number labeled as the lifetime “true” cost, which estimates how much you would’ve made if you had invested that money instead.

For example: If you sign up for basic monthly subscriptions to Netflix and Disney+ for $9 and $7, respectively, your lifetime cost totals around $16,200. However, if you had opted to invest that money, the 50-year prediction sees you walking away with almost $74,000.

Having said that, it’s understandably hard to look that far into the future, especially when Disney+ is tempting you with the Lizzie McGuire series, Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian, and practically every beloved animated Disney movie from your childhood.

[h/t MarketWatch]

Everything You Need to Know About Budgets

Mental Floss via YouTube
Mental Floss via YouTube

Blustery days are finally replacing balmy ones, and that means the holidays are almost here. From booking Thanksgiving airline tickets to buying heartfelt holiday gifts, it’s easy to find yourself a little short on both time and money. In other words: ’tis the season for budgets.

In the latest episode of Scatterbrained, presented by Discover, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy and friends will walk you through some tips and tricks to help you make a budget—and stick to it.

In addition to learning how to break down your paychecks into categories and knock out your to-do list efficiently, you’ll also delve into the history behind budgets—which didn’t always relate to financial planning. (When William Shakespeare used the word budget in The Winter’s Tale, for example, he was referring to a small purse.)

Find out more—including the surprising thing you have in common with squirrels—in the full video below.

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