Potomac (currency)

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Potomac (currency)
Potomac Local Currency.jpg
Some Potomac notes
ISO 4217 code None, it is a local currency
Central bank Greater Washington Exchange
User(s) Washington, District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, USA
Symbol P
Banknotes 1, 5, 10, 20 Potomacs
Printer Desk-top

The Potomac is a local currency that circulates in the National Capital region of the United States. It was introduced informally in early 2009 at a series of community swap meets called Potomac Potlatches and launched May 3, 2009[1] by EcolocityDC at the Forum on Faith, Economy & Ecology organized by the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. The Ecolocity website lists eight businesses in the Greater Washington area that accept the currency, as do vendors at the Petworth Community Market. To date, 1145 Potomacs have been issued. The bills were designed and printed by Larry Chang, Ecolocity founder and graphic designer.

How it works[edit]

Potomacs are a local currency designed and issued for the National Capital Area of Washington DC and its suburbs in Northern Virginia and Maryland. Residents purchase Potomacs at 95 cents on the dollar from a central currency exchange operated by Greater Washington Exchange. Businesses then accept Potomacs at full dollar value, differentiating the business as one supporting the Potomac's values of local economy, ecology, sustainability, and community, and creating a five percent discount incentive for those using the currency. Potomacs can then be used by accepting businesses to purchase goods and services from other participating businesses, make change, pay salaries, or support local non-profits, increasing the local economic multiplier effect and keeping value recirculating in the region. If businesses have an excess of Potomacs, they may also be returned to the cambio for an equivalent of 95 cents per Potomac.

The currency system was based on the BerkShares model with an added feature derived from the German Chiemgauer whereby non-profit organizations with brick-and-mortar offices are invited to act as currency exchange for a commission.


Potomacs are printed in 1, 5, 10, and 20 Potomac denominations, and feature differentiating images of people connected to the Washington area, with a common design showing the United States Capitol and an engraving of George Washington over his signature. The reverse shows a panorama of Washington viewed from Virginia across the Tidal Basin of the Potomac River.

  • The 1 Potomac note uses a portrait of Marvin Gaye, DC's best-known native singer, songwriter and instrumentalist.
  • The 5 Potomac note uses a portrait of Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, women's suffragist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer born in Talbot County, Maryland who spent the latter part of his life in DC.
  • The 10 Potomac note uses a portrait of Pierre L'Enfant, French-born architect and civil engineer who designed the city of Washington.
  • The 20 Potomac note uses a portrait of Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War, born in Dorchester County, Maryland.


The Potomacs program seeks to foster collaboration among producers, retail businesses, non-profit organizations, service providers and consumers. It is an attempt to strengthen the local economy. The program also seeks to increase public awareness of the importance of local economies and to foster optimism for the prospect of gaining local economic self-sufficiency.

The project seeks to assure that a high percentage of each dollar spent will remain circulating in the community. This increase in community capital creates a positive environment for new entrepreneurial ventures. It is hoped that new businesses sprouting from the resulting local generation of wealth will replace imported goods with locally produced items, which are more environmentally sustainable in that they do not need to be shipped over vast distances by the use of fossil fuels.

Media attention[edit]

The Northwest Current,[2] NPR affiliate WAMU,[3] and RT [4] have carried stories on Potomacs.


When someone pays for goods or services with local money, the income to the business is taxable. Similar to gift cards, the applicable tax is taken at the time of purchase and paid to the IRS at the time of redemption by the merchant.


External links[edit]