Mansfield & the Fine Art of Greenbacks

(Spoiler Alert: not many of them are actually green.)

If there is anything that could confirm evidence of the stature of our town, with almost mythic American legitimacy, it would be seeing our name printed prominently on the face of Federal crisp green bills.

There it is, on one supremely sanctioned official unit of legal tender, like a sacred seal: Mansfield, Ohio next to an iconic President, with liberty and justice for all.

Nothing confers validity like money; our confirmation that the United States mint recognizes Mansfield, Ohio.

Here are some bills—a whole wallet full—that offer proof our hometown has achieved the gold standard of authenticity in American history.

Richland & Huron Bank of Mansfield 1816: Six and One Quarter cents

Cash in the Wilderness

The story of Mansfield’s currency goes clear back to frontier days when the town numbered fewer than 500 people.  In those early times, when the county was still mostly forest and gangs of Wyandots still passed through the Square, commerce existed in a barter economy. 

The US Government was not yet in the business of minting paper money, so everything Federally sanctioned was in the form of hard coin.

A local grocer in 1818 advertised that the store would sell their goods “for cash, or bear skins, deer skins, venison hams, and furs.”

But any town that wanted to show up on the map needed a bank, so in 1816 eager entrepreneurs cobbled together the Richland & Huron Bank of Mansfield.  They printed lovely paper currency before the State Legislature even confirmed their charter; and when the State refused to recognize them they went ahead and opened for business anyway.

Mansfield’s first financial institution was a wildcat bank.

Only three months after their grand opening their wagon had rolled into the deep mud with dozens of law suits; within a year it was completely swamped under hundreds of thorny litigations.  Five years later, all of the bank officers had lost their shirts, their lands, their credibility.

These beautiful bills were not ‘worth the paper they were printed on’ for very long.

This piece of currency issued in Mansfield was real as a three-dollar bill.

Farmers Bank of Mansfield

During the first half of the 1800s the only kind of legal tender that the US government produced to grease the wheels of finance was in the form of coins.  To meet the demands of daily commerce it was necessary for the State of Ohio to authorize local banks; and each of these individual institutions came up with their own paper notes.

The Federal Government finally initiated the minting of greenbacks during the financial crisis of the Civil War, and that is when Mansfield got its first national bank—called, interestingly enough, the First National Bank of Mansfield.

The economy of Richland County was wholly based in agriculture during most of the 1800s, so it is not surprising to find the local currency sporting livestock: in this case a family of pigs on a Richland & Huron Bank of Mansfield 1816 One Dollar bill.

The Farmers’ Bank Branch of Mansfield encouraged the notion that they were faithful friends by including the trusty dog to seal their legal tender.

What could be more comforting than bank checks with contented cows…and the bank owner’s lovely daughter.

One advantage of owning the bank is being able to print your own portrait on bank tender: here is Ebenezer Sturges of the Sturges Bank in Mansfield circa 1860.

Citizen’s National Bank of Mansfield was located at the corner of Third & Main after 1881 in an sturdy brick building; in 1925 it was replaced with a sturdier marble classic vault bank building that is today a hair salon.

Mansfield famously produced a Senator, John Sherman, who became Secretary of the Treasury; and shortly after his death in 1900 a number of cities across the US put his face on their greenbacks.

The closest thing we have to personalized local currency in recent years was this Bicentennial Buck from 2008.

These bills come are scanned from the Mark Hertzler collection. Thank you!

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