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Commutation Receipts Graded
By Bank Note Reporter
July 25, 2013

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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PCGS Currency recently certified and graded a hoard of Civil War Commutation Money Receipts known as the “Newark Hoard.” Commutation Money Receipts were official government documents recording the payment of $300 by potential draftees as a means of avoiding service.

The first federal drafts occurred during the Civil War and draftees were given the options to either fulfill their service obligation, provide a substitute, or pay a $300 fee to avoid service. The high cost of the fee meant that only the rich could avoid the draft. This, along with general anger toward the draft, led to the bloody New York City Draft Riots in 1863, when mobs took over parts of the city in the worst civil disturbance in the history of New York.

The Newark Hoard consists of 43 Commutation Money receipts which, according to the submitter, Ron Guth, effectively doubles the population of known examples.

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“Commutation Money Receipts are so rare that most paper ephemera collectors have never seen or heard of them,” said Guth. “This hoard is the largest group of these receipts to ever appear on the market. Previous to this hoard, Commutation Money Receipts would trickle into the market one at a time.”

“These receipts really appealed to us as specialists in paper money,” PCGS Currency President Jason Bradford said. “They touch so many aspects of collecting: Civil War history, the first federal drafts, and the whole inequity of a rich kid being able to buy his way out of the draft while the poor kids went off to fight and die.”

During the Civil War, each Union state was assigned a quota of draftees based on its population. Provost marshals, in conjunction with local authorities, created lists of potential draftees, from which a final list was drawn by lottery. The Commutation fee paled in comparison to the cost of substitutes, which skyrocketed to over $2,000 a man at one point. The Commutation Money program provided a less expensive option, thus forcing the price of a substitute down to the $300 level.

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