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Silver Certificates were printed for a time in the United States as a form of paper currency. They were produced in response to silver agitation by citizens who were angered by the Fourth Coinage Act, which placed the United States on the gold standard. The certificate was matched to the same amount of value in silver coinage. For example, one fifty dollar Silver Certificate equals fifty silver dollars.
The Beginning of an Age The "Coinage Act of 1873" placed the United States on the gold standard, which replaced the bimetallic (silver and gold) standard that had been created by Alexander Hamilton. Many of the poorer citizens saw this as a "crime," and silver agitation began. The Bland-Allison Act, as it came to be known, was passed by Congress on February 28, 1878. It did not provide for the "free and unlimited coinage of silver" demanded by Western miners, but it did require the United States Treasury to purchase between $2 million and $4 million of silver bullion from mining companies in the West, to be minted into coins that would be legal tender for all debts, like gold. These coins, however, were quite heavy, so the government applied their gold certificate strategy to the silver. Suppose that there were five silver dollars in the treasury. The government would print a $5 Silver Certificate against the dollars, providing a somewhat easier medium of exchange. The idea was kept, and Series 1878 was printed in denominations of $10 to $1000.
The End of the Silver Certificates
Certificates circulated, mainly in the $1 denomination, widely throughout the United States in the years following 1934. When the '34s wore out, they were replaced with a new, more modern-looking Series 1953 (1935 for the $1 silvers; see below), with the same face changes as the Series 1950 Federal Reserve Notes had experienced. However, the Silver Certificates began to disappear from circulation during the 1940s and 1950s. The amount of Silver Certificates in circulation depended directly upon the amount of silver bullion in the Treasury vaults. As people redeemed the certificates for bullion or silver dollars, the notes were shredded, because the notes had lost their backing and could not be recirculated unless there was more silver being produced. The price of silver was also rising. In 1960, it was nearing $1.29, which meant that silver dollars were worth more than $1. This meant that people would receive their silver dollars, and melt them down for the bullion, thereby reducing the amount of silver in circulation, which was already falling.
In March 1964, Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon halted redemption of Silver Certificates for Silver Dollars. In the 1970s, large numbers of the remaining silver dollars in the mint vaults were sold to the collecting public for collector value. Silver Certificates were abolished by Congress on June 4, 1963 and all redemption in silver ceased on June 24, 1968. Paper currency is still valid legal tender without the Silver Certificate, instead being backed simply by the perceived strength of the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. treasury, "The notes have no value for themselves, but for what they will buy. In another sense, because they are legal tender, Federal Reserve notes are 'backed' by all the goods and services in the economy."
The Order was for the Treasury to issue silver certificates against all silver held by the government which did not already have certificates against it. The Order was needed due to the passage of Public Law 88-36 which repealed the Silver Purchase Act and other related monetary measures. One result was that after the repeals, only the President could issue new silver certificates.
The Federal Reserve System could replace the certificates, but only in larger denominations. The thrust of the Order returned the authority to issue new silver certificates (and specify denominations) back to the U.S. Treasury.
This executive order allowed for the Federal Reserve System to distribute and exchange currency at lower denominations that met the growing economic need. The authoritative basis for the Order was substantially nullified in 1982 with the passage of Public Law 97-258.
The Order was never directly reversed. However, Section 1(j) of Executive Order 10289, which was added by Section 1(a) of Executive Order 11110, was revoked when Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12608 in 1987