Shall Confederate bonds rise again?

When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, the South immediately faced huge financial problems. Beginning in 1861 and continuing throughout the war, it issued a series of bonds. Today, these bonds, like Confederate money, are sought by collectors. Despite their historical interest, most are available at relatively small cost.

Like everything else in the economy of the pre-war and wartime South, Confederate bonds are directly tied into the value of cotton. In 1860, the South produced more than four million bales of cotton. Of these, about three fourth were exported. England received about half of Southern cotton exports. When war broke out, the South naturally turned to England for weapons and supplies. In large part, bonds financed these purchases. They were often purchased by cotton planters who gave a portion of their crop in payment.
From 1861 to late 1864, the city of Richmond authorized 13 different bond issues. Each of these was subdivided into several types of bonds, so that more than 150 different Confederate bonds were ultimately created.

Each of the bonds had interest coupons attached to them. The coupons were redeemable at set times (typically every six months). At the end of the bond’s term, the bearer would be paid its full-face amount. The redemption of the bonds was to occur at the CSA Treasury or any of its branches.

The most common denominations of Confederate bonds were $50, $100, $500 and $1,000, although bonds up to $100,000 were issued. Some bonds were also issued in English pounds or French francs. The coupons were usually worth $2 each on $50 bonds, up to $300 each for a $10,000 bond.

Each bond had either two signatures and a set of initials or one signature and two sets of initials. These represented the Confederate officials who recorded and authorized the issuance of the bond. On many Confederate bonds, one of the signers is Robert Tyler, the son of fromer President Tyler.

Like their counterparts in the North and elsewhere, bonds from the South were lavishly illustrated. At the top would be pictures of cotton fields, Southern generals or other appropriate themes. The paper was either brownish-pink or white and varied greatly in thickness. Bonds with watermarks are rare.

Each bond had a separate serial number, which was also included on each coupon. The ink was usually not of the best quality and, by now, has faded or turned dark brown. Not infrequently, the ink has also eaten into the back of the bond’s paper.

The $1,000 bond in the accompanying photo was issued by the Confederacy in March 1864. It has the serial number “1358,” which probably means that it was the 1,358th $1,000 bond issued of this particular type. The bond is marked “Fifth Series,” representing part of the bond issuance authorized by the Confederate Congress on February 17, 1864.

At the top of the bond is an image of a Confederate officer astride a horse, with the smaller figures of Justice and Liberty in medallions on the left and right sides. In its text at the top, the bond states that its interest and principal shall be tax-free. (The Confederacy was notoriously averse to imposing taxes on its citizens.) A notation at the bottom of the bond states it was printed by the firm of Evans Cogswell in Columbia, S.C.

There were originally 60 coupons attached to this bond, each paying 30 dollars (representing six percent interest on the bond) with the first coupon redeemable on January 1, 1865. This coupon is missing. Whoever the first owner was, he may have been able to get back his first interest payment, but this was the only one redeemed. The other 59 coupons are still attached to the bond with the last one scheduled to have been redeemed on July 1, 1894.

The original purchaser of this bond must have had a great deal of confidence in the ultimate victory of the Confederacy. When he purchased the bond in early 1864, inflation in the South was running several times above the six percent that the bond paid.

Many Confederate bonds today sell for well less than $100, although some in excellent condition or representing a more rare issuance may go higher. Unusual illustrations may also enhance the price. A bond with an illustration of the famed General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, for example, may be of more value to collectors. At least one such bond exists.

It is just possible that, tucked away in some archive somewhere, there is a list that records the names of the original buyers of Confederate bonds. More likely, that information is lost forever. Occasionally, however, the back of a bond will have written information about the owner or his family.

The Confederacy did not last long enough for all the coupons on any of its bonds to be entirely redeemed. Today these bonds are worthless except to collectors, but, at the time of their issuance, they represented real wealth to the elite class of the South.