Handwritten banknotes were first created in Britain in the seventeenth century as a way to promise repayment to an individual by depositing a specified amount in the bank for that person. These banknotes were a form of credit and could be transferred to another party much in the same way modern money is exchanged. Later, each bank began printing and issuing its own banknote, which led to hundreds of different kinds of notes that could be easily forged.
While still under British rule, American banknotes were secretly printed. During the Revolution, Massachusetts banknotes were engraved in Boston by Paul Revere. Later, hundreds of private American banks sprung up, each with its own distinct note. By the Civil War, there were over 1500 individual banks. From these banks, major firms were created, such as The American Bank Note Co., and the Continental Bank Note Co.
The American Antiquarian Society's Graphic Arts Department has a large collection of banknote engravings. The collection is split into two groups: The first group, Colonial and Continental Currency, is sorted originating colony and by date, and is housed in twenty-three binders. The second group includes nineteenth century notes, eighteenth century and confederate specimens, and miscellaneous related material, and is arranged by date and state or type. It is housed in four boxes. Also, there are a few boxes and binders that hold Continental currency.