The Private Currency and Swap Shop of Yellow Springs, Ohio

Recovered history from the Depression.


Philip Scranton's latest Bloomberg column looks back at barter during the Great Depression, a time that saw several experiments like this one:

Yellow Springs, Ohio, issued a substitute currency, called scrip, and a goods-and-services exchange to ease barter deals. Through this mechanism, a farmer with 100 bushels of potatoes who needed barn repairs didn't have to find an unemployed carpenter wanting potatoes, but could sell them to the exchange for scrip notes. The carpenter, paid in scrip, could purchase food and other products at the exchange. The exchange was doing about $1,000 worth of business a week, the New York Times reported in December [1932]. A similar exchange soon opened in Manhattan.

I've been curious about that Yellow Springs money ever since I saw a passing reference to it in the Illuminatus! trilogy. A trip to Google News produced this informative account of the arrangement in the St. Petersburg Times, dated March 6, 1933, and this briefer AP dispatch from the previous year. For a pamphlet describing the details of the system, go here. And to see the effort come to an end, read the August 1933 article here. Apparently, the guy who was running it was tapped to take over the Tennessee Valley Authority, and it folded when he left. I'll let the commenters debate whether that counts as an example of a federal agency squeezing out grassroots mutual aid.