Just two months into the confederacy, in 1861, the Confederate States of America issued its first bank notes. Like the Continentals that had been issued to fund the Revolutionary War, these Confederate notes were designed to raise money for the fight in the South. There were 72 types of bills and hundreds of sub-types issued over a period of three years. In all, some $2 billion in currency was put into circulation.
Denominations ranged from notes worth one-tenth of a dollar to bills worth $1,000. One $50 bill from Montgomery, Alabama depicts slaves hoeing cotton. Other cotton-themed Confederate notes show the Southern crop being loaded onto a steamboat. The portraits of southern leaders such as Stonewall Jackson predictably made it onto bills, but so did the face of George Washington.
At first the paper money appeared to work as a defacto currency, even though it was never formally declared a legal tender. But as the war effort soured, the currency became less valuable and viable. None other than Mrs. Jefferson Davis, the president of the confederacy’s wife, noted in her diary that turkeys were selling for $60 each, while a single bar of soap cost $50.
The problem, among many, was the vast variety of money that was produced. One respected cataloguer of confederate money, Grover Criswell, estimates that there were roughly 140 different varieties of the 1864 $10 bill alone.
Then there were the counterfeits, much of it printed by northerners, which further undermined the currency. During the Civil War, these counterfeits helped contribute to the devaluation of Confederate currency, but today, in some cases, these same counterfeit notes can be highly collectible.