Glass House Money

Glass House Money

In the 19th century, paper currency was often used by businesses such as glassmaking facilities, as a means of paying their workers or their debts. The federal government began to issue paper currency in 1861, but before this time, most of these bills were issued by state-chartered banks. Glass house currency was drawn against the factory’s bank and often redeemable only at the company store. For example, a bill issued by the New England Glass Company, one of the largest and most affluent glasshouses in the United States, could be exchanged for money at the issuing bank. When the Williamsport Glassworks opened in 1816, it issued bills in 12 ½ cent, 25 cent and 50 cent denominations. These would have been used to purchase glass at the company store or exchange for money.

Glasshouse Money Five Dollar Bill and Printing Plate (2005.7.21,-22)

There are also examples of bank-issued bills illustrating glassblowing. The $5 bill from The Manual Labor Bank of Philadelphia was one such example. Dr. Thomas Dyott, owner of the Manual Labor Bank, was a physician and around 1805, a patent medicine maker in Philadelphia. He had bottles made for his products and this led to his ownership of a glassworks. By 1829, he owned four glasshouses in Kensington, and in 1836, he opened the Manual Labor Bank. The bank prospered until the financial problems of 1837. The Manufacturers and Farmers Bank of Wheeling, Virginia opened in 1851, and also issued bills that illustrated glassblowing. During this time there were several glasshouses in town, including the Union Glass Works; Barnes, Hobbs and Company; and Sweeney and Company. The owners of one or more of these factories may have been directors of the bank or stockholders. The Philadelphia and Wheeling notes were issued on the funds of the bank, not the funds of the glass companies.

Sometimes glasshouses issued promissory notes if they were having financial problems. These bills were used particularly during the Great Depression. An example of this is a bill from the New Martinsville Glass Manufacturing Company of West Virginia, 1932. The note was not redeemable until 60 days after its issue date.


Notes: Spillman, Jane Shadel. “Glasshouse Money—A Real Medium of Exchange.” The Glass Club Bulletin of The National Early American Glass Club. (Autumn 2005)

Published on September 23, 2013