As that bloody conflict, the Civil War, smoldered in 1862, a serious shortage of coins for everyday commerce had Cecil County merchants shuffling around trying to find ways to make change. You could blame penny pinchers, hoarders or simply the scarcity of the war, but whatever the cause there was a shortage of gold, silver, and cooper to make change.
With coins largely out of circulation, the hue and cry for small change was at its height as the nation faced the second year of the tragic struggle. If silver did not become more plentiful, one Elkton merchant told the Cecil Democrat he would be forced to issue shinplasters. Shinplasters were pieces of paper currency issued privately in amounts as low as five cents.
To alleviate the shortage the federal government authorized the issuance of paper currency in small denominations. Two Cecil County municipalities, Port Deposit and Elkton, joined others across the nation in issuing batches of notes, with values of five, ten, twenty-five and fifty cents. In Port Deposit, money bearing the name of the municipality began circulating in shops and business in November 1862. Elkton’s board ordered engraved plates from the American Bank Note Company and issued $6,000 in paper in February 1863. Soon people were using these small notes from the two towns to complete business transactions.
The newspaper editors didn’t approve of the paper money as they believed the “change panic” would soon be over. As for these “greasy nuisances as currency”, the Whig had a suggestion for merchants and shoppers. “Let everyone refuse them.” That was the remedy for “shinplaster fever,” the paper remarked. Regardless of the stance taken by the local editors, the issuance of municipal paper current alleviated the hard coin crunch that was crippling the local economy.