The Shinplasters of 1837

Treasury Note, [1837]. Lithograph. Designed by Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896) and published by H.R. Robinson, New York. Graphic Arts GC2010- in process

This is a parody of the “shinplasters” or worthless paper money issued by banks leading up to the U.S. Panic of 1837.

Although President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) had been able to pay off the national debt in 1835, the surplus cash was distributed by state governments only in paper notes. Before leaving office, Jackson issued the Specie (coin) Circular, declaring that the Treasury would not accept these paper notes. By 1837, the new president, Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), was faced with a national panic.

Sarony’s original satirical “Treasury Note” had a central panel framed by panels on either side. In the center is a winged chimera with the head of Van Buren riding a wagon, labeled Treasury Department, driven by John Calhoun (1782-1850). They are pulled by men rather than horses and roll over the bodies of others as they rush to Wall Street.

On the left is an image of Jackson dressed as a woman saying “More glory.” Princeton’s copy is missing the section on the right, possibly removed through censorship because of the graphic nature of the design. It shows an ass with Jackson’s face excreting “mint drops” collected by a monkey with the head of Van Buren.

The text of the treasury note states:

“We promise to Pay out of the joint Fund of the United States Treasury Seven Years after it is convenient the Sum of Seventy Five cents Payable at their Office.”

Read more: Harry Twyford Peters (1881-1948), America on Stone: the Other Printmakers to the American People (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1931), p.338. Graphic Arts: Reference Collection (GARF), Oversize NE2303 .P4q