NEW HAMPSHIRE MERCHANT SCRIP
NEW HAMPSHIRE MERCHANT SCRIP
New Hampshire Merchant Scrip, Along with a Brief History of Its Use and Biographical Sketches of the Merchants. By Kevin G. Lafond. Foreword by Q. David Bowers. (Portsmouth, NH: Peter E. Randall Publisher, 2018. Pp. XVI, 471. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography.
Scrip and other unofficial currencies are ephemeral in the dual sense that they circulate for relatively brief periods of time and the documentation surrounding their use soon disappears. In view of the challenges this poses to researching their history, we should welcome Kevin G. Lafond's meticulously written and sumptuously illustrated volume on New Hampshire merchant scrip.
A student and collector of this medium for over twenty-five years, Lafond has previously published chunks of his research, including a sketch of the Portsmouth, N.H. merchant John Davenport, a longer monograph on the merchant scrip of that city, as well as a number of smaller articles in the New Hampshire Numismatic Association's newsletter, The Nonagon.
In New Hampshire Merchant Scrip, Lafond brings together his previous work, and much more, to produce a fine-grained study of New Hampshire issues and the merchants responsible for them. Though its title references “Merchant Scrip” as a general topic, the actual focus of this book is overwhelmingly the Civil War era “shinplasters” that appeared in New Hampshire, and indeed across the country, in response to the prevailing shortage of small change. Unlike other state-specific works of this genre, this volume is both narrower in focus yet more ambitious in terms of the historical depth it seeks to achieve.
After providing brief accounts of the major economic and financial crises that have given rise to the use of scrip (his account of the emergence of Civil War scrip is particularly original with respect to New Hampshire), Lafond follows with useful biographical information about the engravers, lithographers, and printers of the state's issues, some of whom are quite obscure. As a rule these outfits were not specialists in banknote production, but undertook scrip issues as sidelines to their other commercial business.
The meat of the book consists of a compilation of scrip issues accompanied by brief, yet detailed accounts of the merchants—their operations and lives—who used the scrip. To call this book a mere catalog would be greatly misleading, though it does provide a reference scheme and attempts to give rarity ratings and note counts for each issue. Even for the smallest town and issue, Lafond's research appears exhaustive, as if he had ransacked every local historical society in search of any information pertinent to their local merchants. Instead of relegating this historical detail to introductions or appendices, as some catalogs do, Lafond instead integrates them into the text with a simple and intuitive framework. Sometimes, his meticulous footnotes alone contain more detail than the corresponding text, and represent delightful side-paths for the careful reader to follow.
Proceeding alphabetically by town name (from Acworth to Wolfeboro), Lafond lists merchants within each locale alphabetically in turn. Spread across seventy-eight towns, New Hampshire scrip issuers were in particular concentrated in the three larger cities: Manchester (16), Concord (23), and Portsmouth (26). The result is a classification scheme easily adaptable to new scrip discoveries as they may occur in the future.