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THE W. & J. BELL FRACTIONAL CURRENCY

By Archibald M. Campbell quoting Dr. T.W. Beeman.

Perth, C.W (Canada West) or U.C. (Upper Canada), was originally the centre of the "Settlement Forming On The Rideau River", which had a. military establishment (with Colonel James H. Powell as Superintendent and Lieutenant, afterwards Senator, Roderick Matheson as Paymaster) until 1822 -- when it was granted, municipal government. The town was surveyed in 1816, and it and the surrounding townships were mainly settled by disbanded British soldiers who had fought in the war of 1812-13-14 and against Napoleon. Many of these were Scotchmen, and, in 1817, Rev. William Bell, M A, (Glasgow), came out from Scotland to minister to them. He was the first clergyman of any denomination between Brockville and Kingston, and, in 1823, his "Letters from Upper Canada" was published in Edinburgh. (See Hints To Emigrants on this website). Two of his sons (twins, who had been born in London, England, towards the end of the previous century), Messrs. William and John Bell, started in business in Perth in 1827. The late Dr. T. W. Beeman, of Perth, an authority on historical and archaeological matters) wrote of these men and their fractional currency, as follows: --

"They were good business men and soon established for themselves a reputation for honesty and upright dealing. They soon extended it (their business) in many directions (including lumbering), and by the year 1837 it had reached considerable magnitude.

In this year the political agitations of quite a length of time crystallized themselves in the rebellion of William Lyon MacKenzie and his followers. This movement produced a sudden and decided effect over the whole Province.

The Government prepared to meet the changed conditions of affairs, and one of their first acts was to pass an Order-in-Council, suspending specie payment, and all at once the silver currency disappeared as if by magic.

As the business of the section was conducted almost entirely by the aid of the silver currency in circulation, the sudden withdrawal of this coin from the community produced a marked effect.

At first it converted what was before a partly credit business into one entirely so. But this condition of affairs could not last and for a time many devices were tried to ease the situation. A barber issued some tickets with the words "Good for one shave" printed on ordinary paper -- these were to a limited extent accepted as worth 3d.

Finally, W. & J. Bell determined to issue a large amount of scrip and took steps accordingly in that direction. They sent to Scotland and had printed (off engraved copper plates) an immense number of scrip of different values, -- 6d., 7½d., 12d., 15d. (or, quarter dollar) and 30d. (or, half dollar), -- and before long they had over $10,000.00 (considered a very large amount in those days) of this in circulation. Such was their standing in the community that this was accepted readily on all sides, although it was not recognized in any way by the authorities. This was only in circulation for two or three years, as the rebellion by that time had been put down.

The money in circulation at the time consisted of Upper Canada Bank notes and silver currency made up of English and American pieces, and Spanish pieces of eight. Of these the last named were the most abundant, but even at the best there was barely sufficient to meet the requirements of the growing Settlement. It was quite a drawback to the development of the place. At the time when this currency was in circulation it was no unusual thing for a blacksmith to be called on to cut a Spanish dollar in quarters, or even eighths, in order to make change. The reason why the Spanish silver was current in an English settlement was because the Spanish dollar or pieces of eight was the most convenient form as a basis of exchange, with English currency. There were also Spanish half- and quarter-dollars, pistareens and pistoles, but the smaller coins were very scarce. A good deal of this silver was brought in to pay the half-pay officers resident here."

With the compliments of
Archibald M. Campbell -- grandson of Captain William Bell.

Perth, Ontario, Canada,
September 28th, 1932.

W. & J. Bell one shilling note dated Aug. 1, 1839. From a private collection.
Actual size is 5-5/8 inches by 2-3/8 inches.
           Note: Only notes which are hand numbered, dated and signed, such as the one above, were actually issued and placed into circulation. There are many notes available without numbers and signatures, and while they are probably genuine, they are from the stock of unissued currency remaining after the bills ceased to be issued. Because the notes were printed on very thin paper, the circulated examples tend to be in fairly poor condition. They are all blank on the reverse. -- Charles Dobie.


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