Monday, August 6, 2018

Funny Money

Annamaria on Monday

In Wartime: Worthless Paper

I recently discovered, among my father's World War II souvenirs, some funny money.  My dad fought in just about all of the worst battles in the Pacific.  Then he was sent to be a China Marine:  A group of about 3000 Americans who attended the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tsingtao and afterwards guarded the Japanese prisoners waiting to be repatriated - a slow process since there were something like 700,000 of them and most of Japan's ships had been lost in the war.

History nerd that I am, on discovering the strange currency, I went to work trying to identify it.


These four coins remain a mystery.  They are Chinese, with what looks to me like a nice engraving of the Forbidden City gate on the obverse.  I will keep digging to see what I can turn up on those.  

 I am not sure where my father got this strange bill:

An internet search quickly revealed it as an example of something that, until two days ago, I didn't even know existed: Japanese Invasion Money, or as the Japanese named it, Southern Development Bank Notes.  The Filipinos called it "Mickey Mouse Money."

J.I.M. by any other name was just as worthless.  The Japanese Southern Development Bank had circulated 470 million such notes by the end of 1942.  By March 1945, they had 13 Billion of them outstanding in the Philippines, Burma, Maylaya, North Borneo, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Dutch East Indies, and parts of Oceania.  Each one was really worth the scrap value of paper it was printed on.  Unless, of course, you believed what was printed on each one: "The Japanese Government promises to pay the bearer on demand ten dollars."

When I first saw my father's souvenir, I was stuck by the fact that they were promising to pay in American money.  Did it give them pause, I wonder, that they said they would pay with their enemy's currency?  Did they do that because they were certain that they would defeat and gain hegemony over the United States?  Or did they base their decision on the fact that the dollar was the most respected currency in the world?  (Aside: Thank you Alexander Hamilton!)

With further research, I found that they promised the local currency in some countries.

When the imperialist Japanese took over a country, they looted the banks and the local populace of all their hard currency and replaced it with Japanese paper.  While Japan ruled those territories, J.I.M. could be used as local tender. 

During the war, the United States took steps to destabilize the economies of the Japanese ruled territories by massively counterfeiting the J.I.M. bills.  (I have a feeling that the one my Dad kept was really a U.S. fake.)   Like any clever counterfeiting operation, the American government used the right kind of paper.  In this instance a local supply of paper made from Japanese plants.  When the American supply of the right paper ran out, the Australians took over the counterfeiting operation.  General MacArthur supplied the bogus notes to Filipino guerrillas fighting the Japanese.  MacArthur asked for and received five and half million counterfeit notes in four different denominations totaling  67 million pesos.

Piles of discarded Invasion notes on the Streets of Rangoon as the war ended.

With end of the war, it all became completely worthless.

In the aftermath of the conflict, lawsuits ensued, with nations and individuals hoping to be reimbursed for having been robbed of their real money.  With the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951, Japan agreed to make some reparations to countries.  Individuals got nothing.

In a Depression: Hard Times Tokens

As with the Chinese coins at the top, I had to do a little polishing to be able to see what was written on this strange coin.  I read, "MADE BY S B SCHENK."  And "ATTLEBORO MASS."  It shows an engraving of a planing machine.

What the heck?

It turns out that this coin owes its existence to a President of the United States who didn't know didily-squat about how to govern our nation's economy.  

No not him (though the description fits).  We are talking about 1832 to 1844 here.  Andrew Jackson, having won reelection in 1832, thought it was a good idea to weaken the Bank of the United States.  Without a central bank, the states started issuing their own paper money.  Lots of questionable moolah floating around caused...  Wanna guess?  Right!  Inflation!  Huge inflation.  And a rush of land speculation.  ("Buy land.  They aren't making any more of it." - Mark Twain, or some might say Will Rogers.)

Having screwed things up pretty severely, Jackson and his Treasury Secretary proceeded to rule that local banks were required to refuse paper money and accept only coins, which were gold and silver, in payment for public land.  Hearing this, the populace panicked and began to hoard gold and silver coins.  The banks ran out of precious metal money to pay out.  Currency stopped circulating.  Money is to the economy what blood is to your body.  When circulation stops, death quickly ensues.  Across the nation, banks and businesses went belly up.  The nation fell into the grip of the depression known as Hard Times.

The tokens minted then - usually of copper - were used locally to buy goods and services and often featured political statements--such as one on which Andrew Jackson was represented as an ass.

My Dad's token is from that period - issued by  company in Massachusetts - and now worth somewhere between $35 and $99.

But the heck with money, my favorite souvenir of those Hard Times is a song by the great Stephen Foster.  "Hard Times Come Again No More."  It speaks to me now, more than ever.  Take a listen.


  1. Fascinating column, AmA, thanks!

    "Money is to the economy what blood is to your body. When circulation stops, death quickly ensues."

    Oh, you mean like when .001% of the population corners most of the money in the economy, and the rest of the population has less and less with which to buy anything? But those wealthy are the job creators, right?

    1. Thank you, EvKa. But don’t get me on the subject of job creation and Republicans. I was once in charge of manpower planning for a Wall Street bank, until I realized I was battling for the wrong team. I could go on and on and ....

  2. Thanks, Annamaria. Really interesting. History does teach us lessons, although we refuse to learn them. This one is: when people who know nothing about economics start tinkering with the economy for purely political reasons, then total disaster may ensue.
    Of course, nothing like that would happen today, would it?

  3. I'm so happy you mentioned "the great Stephen Foster," Sis. I grew up close by a statue honoring him as the father of American Music erected in his hometown, but its recently been removed. I can think of a lot of things more worthy of that treatment.

  4. Thank you, Michael. The phrase I read in my research that made me gulp was that AndrewJackson was re-elected. Disaster can repeat themselves. Yikes!!

  5. I just went to find the story of the removal of the statue. I can see the point. But I can still admire his music, As evidently Frederick Douglas did. I am fond of saying that without the blacks, the Jews, the Italians, Steven Foster and Cole Porter, there would be no American music.

  6. When we are 16 we sit some exams. One is maths. The current finance minister of the Scottish Nats failed that exam. We are in trouble.

    1. Caro, Your Finance Minister can't add. That's bad.
      The US President can't think. We are completely in the drink!

  7. By the way, of course you don't need a war for your money to do this badly. I have a $1,000,000,000 Zimbabwe dollar note somewhere...

    1. Michael, we could trade that billion for my father's ten Japanese war bucks and neither one of us would be the loser!

  8. In another note related to WWII, what should appear on my Facebook page last night but a video of people in a subway in Italy singing "Bella Ciao," a song of the Italian resistance to the Italian and German fascists.

    It was amazing. An older woman stood up and started singing. A lot of middle-aged and older people joined in, grinning. A few young people knew the words; others started learning them.

    At the end, applause and cheers rang out.

    Then I saw a crowd of hundreds singing it in the Milan metro station, jumping up and down and cheering.

  9. Oh Kathy, I would love to see that. Was it a YouTube? After WWII, the French Resistance go a lot of very well-deserved publicity and admiration in the United States. It was years before I ever knew about the sacrifices and the Partigiani. I have a friend in Italy whose father is one of the last living. He was only 15 when he went into the hills to fight fascism and the Nazis. There is a ceremony every year in the Piazza Della Signoria in Florence to honor the fallen and those few still living. Everyone sings "Bella Ciao." Many young Italians have learned it from their relatives--descendants of those brave men and women. Those who lived long enough to have families.

  10. Here is the link to the You Tube video. I've watched it five times and tear up every time, thinking of the sacrifices made by so many people fighting the fascists.

  11. And here is the link to a huge crowd in the Milan metro station singing Bella Ciao, jumping up and down and cheering. I should start every day watching these videos.

    As I read online, the song started out as a song of women paddy workers about how hard their lives were. But then the song was adapted by the partisans and words changed.