When is a dollar not a dollar?

When the year is 1838 and anyone can open a bank and issue their own currency!

Students from the South Knox summer program M2+ visited the Old State Bank at Vincennes State Historic Sites and learned the complications and pitfalls of Indiana’s early banking system. Students discovered the value of a national currency we can all count on!

Earlier this year, we had 8th grade students from Clark Middle School participate in a similar program. Students learned how our economic system progressed from the Barter and Trade system to the fur trade, where the settlers traded specific items with the Indians. Then Indiana began to use coin money, gold and silver. It was interesting to see their reactions as they saw the Pieces of 8 and thought about what it would be like to carry around all the coins and break them into pieces to pay for goods and services. The future entrepreneurs and investors then took part in an activity in which they were given paper money similar to the currency that was printed by the numerous individual banks of the early 1800s. They were told to go trade the bills with others.

Some students were given “inside” trader tips that certain bank notes would fail and others would increase their value. It was fun to see how the students caught on to the game and who the future “millionaires” might be.


Angela Lucas is the program developer at Vincennes State Historic Sites.

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