The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 23, Number 25, June 21, 2020, Article 31


This week CNN published an article about Tenino Washington's revival of its wooden scrip during the coronavirus pandemic. They did their research, quoting Len Augsburger of NNP and Dr. Jesse Kraft of the ANS. Here's an excerpt, but see the complete article online. -Editor

2020 Tenino $20 wooden scrip note
Loren Ackerman holds a piece of wooden money he printed

As businesses struggle to stay afloat during the pandemic and a record number of Americans have lost their jobs, one small city in Washington state put forth a creative solution to help its neediest residents pull through: printing their own money, out of wood.

In Tenino -- a community of less than 2,000 people halfway between Seattle and Portland -- residents who can demonstrate an economic hardship caused by the pandemic can receive up to $300 a month in wooden dollars, subsidized by a City Hall grant program.

The bills are made of wood veneer and are each worth $25. They can be used to purchase necessities and services from licensed or certified providers, as specified in the guidelines by Tenino's City Hall.

History revamped
This is not the first time the city of Tenino has resorted to printing its own money in times of economic hardship. It happened before, during the Great Recession.

The Tenino Wooden Dollar was first printed in December 1931 when the local Citizens Bank failed and all bank accounts were frozen, according to city historian Richard Edwards.

At that time, the currency was backed by the local Chamber of Commerce rather than by the local government, and was the brainchild of local newspaper publisher Don Major, who thought to use his printing press for the purpose.

Residents could sign over up to 25% of their bank deposits to the Chamber of Commerce in exchange for the alternative currency, which was also made of wood, an abundantly available material in the Pacific Northwest. The first Tenino wooden currency circulated from 1931 to 1933, and later became a collectors' item.

The fact that the new version of the Tenino dollar is also printed on wood has to do with the fact that this city "is very history aware," Edwards told CNN.

The current Tenino Wooden Dollars are printed with the same newspaper press from the 1890s that was used in the 1930s with custom engraving blocks. The machine, which resides in the Tenino Depot Museum, was used over the years to produce commemorative versions of the historic Tenino Wooden Dollar for the collectors' market, for organizations and for special events, according to Edwards.

A novel kind of scrip
Leonard Augsburger, the project coordinator of the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington State University in St. Louis, told CNN that currency alternatives and scrip were very popular during the Depression era, especially after the 1933 Bank Holiday ordered by President Roosevelt.

"There were thousands of various scrip issues during the Depression, a lot of times coming from local municipalities, chambers of commerce, boards of education, or companies. They were all over the country and people were used to seeing them," Augsburger said.

"They had by and large disappeared once people had confidence in the banks and the regular money supply was back to normal."

The 2020 Tenino Wooden Dollar is "really intriguing," according to Augsburger, because it's not quite the same as its Depression-era ancestor. "This is sort of more akin to food stamps, where the government gives you certificates that are directly redeemable for food and primary needs."

While government assistance through social programs is well-established, the Tenino Wooden Dollar is a more direct way for a local government to provide direct aid to individuals while supporting local commerce, according to Augsburger.

"To see this done on a very local basis is novel."

Is it legal?
The authority to print money resides with the federal government, and US Dollars are the only legal tender in the country. But is Tenino actually printing money? Jesse Kraft, an assistant curator at the American Numismatic Society, doesn't think so.

"No one is going to be held accountable for this because they are not actually creating money, as it's legally defined. These are just tokens that are creating an economic stimulus," Kraft told CNN.

"It begs the question: what is money? It really is just something that someone is willing to spend and the other person is willing to accept," Kraft added.

It's unlikely the federal government would worry about the Tenino currency unless it became much more widely used, according to Augsburger.

Creativity beyond borders
As American as it is, the Tenino experiment is receiving attention not just from other states around the country, but from all over the world, the mayor said. He has fielded media inquiries from Canada, New Zealand and Norway in recent days.

"The global interest in this story is amazing and I sincerely hope it inspires other communities to try bold new ideas," Fournier told CNN. The attention has also brought about donations from benefactors both foreign and domestic, according to Fournier.

"The generosity has been amazing."

Others are getting in touch to purchase Tenino Wooden Dollars as collectibles.

"We're getting bombarded with requests from out of the city folks that want to purchase them, and they're offering like seven times the face value." If Tenino residents were to resell their wooden dollars for a profit, Fournier would still feel like the currency met its stated purpose.

"I still think you've directly helped an individual that's been harmed by the pandemic."

To read the complete article, see:
Tenino, Washington is printing wooden money to help residents through the pandemic (

This article shows the perspective of those helped by receiving the scrip. -Editor

Just about every business in town, from the gas station and auto-body shop to Don Juan's Mexican Kitchen, is accepting the wooden scrip. The currency, made of maple veneer, is about the thickness, size and flexibility of an index card and printed on the same 1890s-era press that once printed the Depression currency and the local newspaper. It can't be used for alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.

The businesses can redeem the scrip for real dollars at City Hall — or sell them on the side. Some merchants said they've been offered three times the face value from coin collectors around the country.

Mahlenbrei, one of about a dozen people who applied for the assistance in the program's early days, is a school bus driver. The company she works for has continued paying her for her normal routes, she said, so she can't collect unemployment. But the extra trips that usually double her base income — driving students on field trips and teams to games — have dried up, along with their compensation.

She had to begin taking Social Security early, reducing the payments she will receive. And the company that provided her hearing aid has repossessed it because she can't make the monthly payments.

She used $150 of her first monthly aid to pay her utility bill.

“When they came up with this, I was the first person in line down there,” said Mahlenbrei, 63. “I have no money. This really helps.”

To read the complete article, see:
Tenino merchants are taking wooden nickles during pandemic (

To read earlier E-Sylum articles, see:

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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