Brown University Library Special Collections

Money, Money, Money!

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on January 14, 2013

A collection of Rhode Island currency and fiscal documents was recently donated by Cynthia Frost (Vice President and Chief Investment Officer at Brown) in memory of her father Michael Freezy Frost, who collected the materials during his lifetime.  The Frost Currency collection (Ms.2012.031) contains examples of 26 pieces of currency, of varying types, issued in Rhode Island between 1775 to 1929, one bank note issued in Delaware in 1759, and 5 documents related to the fiscal history of 18th century Rhode Island.

Front of Rhode Island 20 Dollar bill, 1780

Back of Rhode Island 20 Dollar bill, 1780

This 20 Dollar bill was issued in 1780 and is a promissory note from the State of Rhode Island.  which promised to pay the bearer the principal plus 5% interest every year in 6 years.  The note was then traded like money for goods and services. Whoever possessed the note at the end of the 6-year term collected the principal and all the interest.  Notice the offset text on the left side of the bill, the original signatures and the unique handwritten number, all of which were meant to frustrate counterfeiters.  The back adds offset text in red and a woodcut image which would be very difficult to reproduce exactly.

Rhode Island 6 Pence bill, 1786

The State of Rhode Island also issued money.  The Six Pence bill was issued in 1786 and is printed on only one side.  No interest accrues with this bill, it is solely meant as a medium of exchange.


Front of Roger Williams National Bank of Providence 10 Dollar bill, 1865

Back of Roger Williams National Bank of Providence 10 Dollar bill, 1865

Banks got into the business of printing money in the 1840s and they chose the images and style of the bills.  The image of Benjamin Franklin discovering electricity with his kite was clearly so well known by 1865 that it needed no caption on this 10 Dollar bill.  The back of the bill shows DeSoto discovering the Mississippi.  Perhaps the choice of that image was meant to create solidarity within the United States again since that area of the country had so recently been prevented from seceding.

To learn more about this collection visit the John Hay Library.