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A Confederate Note

Confederate $20 bill
click photo to enlarge
By Katie Adams, Curator at the Tread of Pioneers Museum

Part of the mission of the Tread Pioneers Museum is to collect and interpret items that tell the story of the history of our area and its residents. Often, items in our collection are also deeply embedded in national history as well. This is the case for this month’s blog topic, “A Confederate Note.”

Henry Schaffnit Sr. led an exciting life. It was a life of adventure and hardship, here are the very quick highlights:

  • Came from Germany in 1851
  • Followed the gold rush to California in 1854
  • Fought in the Civil War in 1861 (on the Union side)
  • Ran a hotel in Leadville, CO in 1874
  • Mined gold in Hahns Peak
  • Homesteaded in Routt County in 1884
  • Built and ran the Sheridan Hotel in Steamboat Springs in 1888
  • Lived in Steamboat Springs for many years, retired to California, and died in 1916. Obviously there is so much more to share about this extraordinary man, but that I’ll save for another blog.

Henry Schaffnit’s family gave several items to the museum in 1970s, one item that I have always found intriguing was a Confederate currency note. (see image below)

When the Civil War broke out the Confederacy began to issue its own money. The idea was that the citizens of the South could have their own currency under what they assumed would be the new Confederate government. The first note from the Government of the Confederate States of America was issued in April 1861. Our Schaffnit $20 bill was issued on September 2, 1861. It, like all the other currency, was painstakingly hand signed and numbered. The notes were even cut apart by hand from large sheets.

While our note is legitimate, many of them are counterfeit. Some have been recently copied by the scammers of today, while other notes were copied by the North in an attempt to cause massive inflation by distributing counterfeit money throughout the South. It worked, the South was saturated with bills, then after the South fell, the notes had no value, and the Southern banks had no money to loan. The cotton industry bottomed out, and most importantly, the U.S. government never recognized the Confederate States of America as legitimate. So the money, stocks, and bonds that were printed by the South had absolutely no redeemable value.

As you can see in the image of the bill, at the top of the bill it says “Six Months after the ratification of the Treaty of Peace between the Confederate States and the United States.” Then in the middle “The Confederate States of America will pay $20 to bearer.” So the money
wasn’t backed by assets, it was just a promise note to pay the bearer after the war, if the South won. It’s no wonder the bills were worth nothing before the end of the war.

There were nearly one hundred different bill designs created, ranging from 50 cents to $1,000 denominations. The image of the man on the Schaffnit bill is of Alexander H. Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States of America, and the 50th Governor of Georgia. Our bill isn’t rare—there were 2,834,251 issued.

Today the Confederate currency is a common collector’s item. For the museum it’s an important tie between the national history and local history. Even though we do not know any more about how Lieutenant Henry Schaffnit acquired the bill, we do know about his life and that he was regarded as one of the most well-respected and successful men of our town. The stately Schaffnit family home still stands at the corner of 4th and Oak, where the Horizons office is now located.

Come back next month for Part II of this blog, where I’ll talk about our newly acquired Civil War medal from Union Soldier and Grand Army member of the Republic, Albert James Leckenby.

Sources:
Tread of Pioneers Museum collection records
Steamboat Pilot
Collection Confederate Paper Money, Field Edition, 2014, by Fricke, Pieree


Henry Schaffnit Sr. served in Turner Zouaves 3rd U.S. Reserve Corps and rose to lieutenant in the 10th Illinois Infantry. Tread of Pioneers Museum collection, #4737





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