Currency > Continental (1775-1779)

On May 10th 1775 – with the seeds of the Revolutionary war having just been sown with the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, & Battle of Lexington – and with the Declaration of Independence still more than a year away – the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia authorized the issuance of paper money. At the meeting, Congress authorized 49,000 impressions each for denominations of $1 through $8, and printing began soon after. Later bills with denominations of $20 to $80 were added to the mix. The money, for “The United Colonies”, was to be used to pay war expenses and was to be redeemed from taxes collected by the colonies. Unfortunately, the words “payable in Spanish Milled Dollars or Gold” was a promise the fledgling government could not fulfill. Within a few years, the financial abilities of the Continental Congress diminished and the notes became nearly valueless. Throughout the 1780’s, a few speculators were buying $500 in paper bills for $1 in coin. In August 1790, Congress passed a bill stating that Continental Currency was receivable at the Treasury at the rate of $100 in currency for $1 in silver or gold coin, netting a profit of 500% to the speculators. In 1793, all bills were repudiated, and they could no longer circulate as money.

Item: $5 Continental Currency Note (May 1775)
Ranking: #48 of 100 Greatest American Currency Notes
Estimated Number Known: 1,500 to 2,500
Links to Full Size Images: Obverse / Reverse

 $5 Continental Currency Note dated May 10, 1775


  1. First paper $5 bill of what would later become the United States of America.
  2. An anti-counterfeiting leaf motif, invented by Ben Franklin, was used on the reverse.
  3. Leaf patterns were unique & complex, and nearly impossible to reproduce.
  4. On the $5 note, a betony & sage leaf was used.
  5. Each denomination ($1 through $8) had 49,000 impressions struck.
  6. Bills were signed with brown & red ink; the serial number was in dark red ink.
  7. Bills were made using border cuts, emblem cuts, nature prints & hand set type.
  8. Franklin explained, “The thorny bush represents America, the bleeding hand Britain”.
  9. The motto SUSTINE VEL ABSTINE means “Support me, or leave me alone”.
  10. The paper stock had mica flakes and tiny blue fibers added for security.
  11. The stock was thick and cardboard-like, prompting the British to call it the “Cardboard Currency of the Colonies”.