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Image of Pismo Beach, California, 1 Dollar, 1933
 
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Materials: Clam shell; ink
Measurement: 9.9 x 13.6 x 2.8 cm
Source: Chase Manhattan Money Museum
Note:
 


Pismo Beach, California, 1 Dollar, 1933

When the Depression and resulting banking crisis hit their community, the residents of the coastal town of Pismo Beach, California picked an unusual but logical medium of exchange. The pismo is a species of clam with a very thick shell, then found in large numbers along the California coast and prized as a food.

A town named after the bivalves suggests an adequate supply of their shells. Perhaps with tongue in cheek, the merchants and officials of Pismo Beach (who were often the same people) decided to make the best of a bad situation, and to make the humble clam shell into an object of trade. This they did. The Chamber of Commerce and no fewer than eleven merchants issued clamshell scrip.

Each piece was numbered, and each piece was signed on the front and on the back. As with the stamp notes of the Midwest, it was necessary to sign each clamshell on the back in order to keep it in circulation. No formal requirements may have existed, but informal pressure certainly would have endorsed the practice.

Restwell Cabins issued "notes" in three denominations: twenty-five cents, fifty cents, and one dollar. The larger the amount, the larger the shell. The issue may have been partly intended as a spoof, or for sale to tourists, in the manner of German notgeld around 1920. Redemption would never be a problem because collectors would want to keep these pieces in their cabinets or trade them with their friends.

But it was also intended partly as a real, if unique, circulating medium. The Restwell Cabins issue bore the motto, "IN GOD WE TRUST." Each piece was numbered, and each was signed on the front and on the back. This specimen is dated March 8, 1933. This was in the middle of Roosevelt’s national banking holiday, and it is exactly the time when we might expect to see people take money into their own hands.
 
Related Events
1929: The stock market crashes, signaling the beginning of the Great Depression.
1932: The Reconstruction Finance Corporation is established to assist failing banks, railroads, and insurance companies.
1933: President Roosevelt declares a "Bank Holiday," suspending the sale of gold and silver to restrict hoarding.
1935: The Works Progress Administration and other relief agencies are created.
1941: U.S. enters World War II.
 
Legends of the Human Spirit The following objects are in this section.
United States, 2 Dollars, 1776Connecticut, 2 Shillings 6 Pence, 1776Confederacy, 1 Dollar, 1862
United States, 30 Dollars, 1776Confederacy, 5 Dollars, 1862Norfolk, Nebraska, 1 Dollar, 1933
Virginia, 15 Dollars, 1776Confederacy, 5 Dollars, 1863Pismo Beach, California, 1 Dollar, 1933
Maryland, 1 2/3 Dollars, 1775Confederacy, 10 Dollars, 1863Pismo Beach, California, 50 Cents, 1933
 
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