Abstract: Panacea or Dud? Retailers React to Scrip in the Great Depression

Sarah Elvins


This paper will explore the phenomenon of scrip, or alternative currency, which flourished after the stock market crash of 1929. Cities and towns across the United States attempted to encourage consumption and alleviate unemployment by issuing their own forms of money. Scrip advocates argued that such plans would allow people to keep their dollars working within their own communities, concentrating efforts at recovery. But not all residents viewed the schemes with the same level of enthusiasm: this paper will explore the varied business reactions to scrip proposals. I argue that the study of scrip demonstrates that despite the networks of communication and distribution that linked the nation in the 1930s, many people thought of their participation in the economy in local terms. This belief created conflicts for retailers, who hoped to encourage the patronage of local clients but needed "real" money to pay suppliers outside of the community. Scrip schemes relied on merchant participation to be successful, and in many cases retailers readily endorsed the plans as necessary to improve business conditions. In other instances, however, those proposals floundered as businesses refused to accept scrip coupons.

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