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Twice in history, Marion had its own currency.

Even though all of us handle paper money every day, I doubt that there are many residents left who are aware that Marion used to have its own currency. There appears to have been two periods of time in history when that was made possible.

When local historian, Milo Erwin, published his history of Williamson County in 1876, he noted that early on there had been four banks in this county: The Agricultural Bank and the Bank of Southern Illinois chartered in 1860; the Menahaway Bank in 1863 and the Bolton Bank in 1858.

Of those early banks, two were known to be located in Williamson County -- the Bolton Bank of Bolton (which later became Stonefort), and the Agricultural Bank in Marion.

Although next to nothing has been written about the Agricultural Bank, each of the hand numbered and hand signed notes bears the signature of the bank officers. The banknote shown here is typical of Civil War period art work on bills and undoubtedly dates to the period around 1860, making it likely that this was a "wildcat" bank.

Wildcat banking refers to the unusual practice of banks chartered under state law during the period of non-federally regulated state banking in the U.S., 1816 to 1863, also known as the Free Banking Era. This era, although commonly described as an example of free banking, was not truly free banking, as banks were free of federal regulation but were still loosely regulated by the states.

The actual regulation of banking during this period varied from state to state and many people lost money when these banks folded, due to poor management or greed.

The signature of the president on this banknote is signed Robert M. Hundley, one of Marion's success stories. Historian Erwin described Hundley thusly, "Colonel Robert M. Hundley came into this county in 1838, a penniless boy, and is now one of our wealthiest citizens. He is a man of talent and great shrewdness."

Hundley served as President of Marion from 1866 through 1868 and later served as a city alderman.

In 1863, the National Banking Act established a system of national banks, which were empowered to issue national bank notes subject to federal oversight. From 1863 to 1935, national bank notes were issued by banks throughout the country and in U.S. territories.

Banks with a federal charter would deposit bonds in the U.S. Treasury. The banks then could issue bank notes worth up to 90 percent of the value of the bonds. In addition, since banks were required to "Pay the Bearer on Demand", they were required to maintain a redemption fund amounting to 5 percent of any outstanding note balance, in gold or "lawful money." The bank notes became known as national currency.

The First National Bank of Marion was chartered in 1891 and in 1916 constructed the building on the square now occupied by the First Southern Bank. Through the whole period of its existence until its failure during the Depression in 1930, it issued Marion bank notes.

The notes shown in this article were in use from 1910 through the 1920s, and reflected the busts of William McKinley and Alexander Hamilton. The notes were signed by bank officers Lloyd C. Campbell and Shannon Holland. Holland served multiple terms as Marion alderman from 1878 through 1887 and was Marion mayor in 1891 and 1892. Campbell served as Marion alderman from 1899 through 1901.

The U.S. government retired national bank notes as a currency in the 1930s during the Great Depression, as currency in the U.S. was consolidated into Federal Reserve Notes, United States Notes, and Silver Certificates; privately issued bank notes were eliminated.
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Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Mar 7, 2018
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