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Russian-American Company parchment scrip (1 Ruble), from between 1826 and 1858.

A scrip (or chit in India) is any substitute for legal tender. It is often a form of credit. Scrips have been created and used for a variety of reasons, including exploitative payment of employees under truck systems; or for use in local commerce at times when regular currency was unavailable, for example in remote coal towns, military bases, ships on long voyages, or occupied countries in wartime. Besides company scrip, other forms of scrip include land scrip, vouchers, token coins such as subway tokens, IOUs, arcade tokens and tickets, and points on some credit cards.

Scrips have gained historical importance and become a subject of study in numismatics and exonumia due to their wide variety and recurring use. Scrip behaves similarly to a currency, and as such can be used to study monetary economics.


A variety of forms of scrip were used at various times in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Company scrip[edit]

Company scrip is a substitute for currency to pay a company's employees.

In United States mining or logging camps where everything was owned and operated by a single company, scrip provided the workers with credit when their wages had been depleted. These remote locations were cash poor. Workers had very little choice but to purchase food and other goods at a company store. In this way, the company could charge enormous markups on goods, making workers completely dependent on the company, thus enforcing a form of loyalty to the company. Additionally, while employees could exchange scrip for cash, this could rarely be done at face value. This kind of scrip was valid only within the settlement where it was issued. While store owners in neighboring communities could accept the scrip as money, they rarely did so at face value, as it was worth less.[citation needed]

When U.S. President Andrew Jackson issued his Specie Circular of 1836 due to credit shortages, Virginia Scrip was accepted as payment for federal lands.

In the 19th century, the federal government in Western Canada offered money scrip (valued at $160 or $240) or land scrip, valued at 160 acres (65 ha) or 240 acres (97 ha), to Métis people in exchange for their Aboriginal rights.[1]

During the Great Depression, at the height of the crisis, many local governments paid employees in scrip. Vermilion, Alberta was just one example.[2]

In the U.S., payment of wages in scrip became illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.[3]

The expression scrip is also used in the stock market where companies can sometimes pay dividends in the form of additional shares/stock rather than in money.[4] It is also a written document that acknowledges debt.

After World War I and World War II, scrip was used as notgeld ("emergency money") in Germany and Austria.

Scrip was used extensively in prisoner-of-war camps during World War II, at least in countries that complied with the Third Geneva Convention. Under the Geneva Conventions, enlisted prisoners of war could be made to work and had to be paid for their labor, but not necessarily in cash. Since ordinary money could be used in escape attempts, they were given scrip that could only be used with the approval of camp authorities, usually only within the camps.

Poker chips, also referred to as casino tokens, are commonly used as money with which to gamble. The use of chips as company money in the early 19th century in Devon, England, in the Wheal Friendship[5] copper mine gave its name to a local village of Chipshop.

Stamp scrip[edit]

Stamp scrip was a type of local money designed to be circulated and not to be hoarded.

One type of this worked this way. Each scrip certificate had printed boxes; every month a stamp costing a certain amount (in a typical case, 1% of the face value) had to be purchased and recorded in a box, otherwise the scrip lost all its value. This provided a great incentive to spend the scrip quickly. The scheme was used successfully in Germany and Austria in the early 1930s, after national currencies collapsed. National governments considered themselves threatened by the success of stamp scrip projects, and shut them down; similar misgivings discouraged their later use elsewhere.[6]

The Alberta Social Credit Party government in 1937 issued prosperity certificates, a form of provincial currency, in an effort to encourage spending. This scrip had boxes in which a stamp equal to 2% of the value had to be affixed each week. Thus, the value of the certificate was covered by the cost of the stamps at the year's end when it matured.

Modern usage[edit]

Scrip survives in modern times in various forms.

Community-issued scrip[edit]

The use of locally issued scrip accepted by multiple businesses within a community increased during the late-2000s recession. Community-wide scrip usage has begun or is on the rise in Ithaca, New York; Detroit; The Berkshires; Pittsboro, North Carolina; Traverse City, Michigan; Lamar, Colorado; Calgary, Canada; Bristol, UK; and Hagen, Germany.[7][8][9][10]

Breadcoin scrip was created in Washington DC in 2016 to address food insecurity.[11]

Thailand's township Amphoe Kut Chum once issued its own local scrip called Bia Kut Chum: Bia is Thai for cowry shell, which was once used as small change, and still so used in metaphorical expressions. To side-step implications that the community intended their scrip as an unlawful substitute for currency, it now issues exchange coupons called Boon Kut Chum.[12]

Company-issued customer scrip[edit]

Some companies still issue scrip notes and token coin, good for use at company points of sale. Among these are the Canadian Tire money for the Canadian Tire stores and gasbars in Canada, and Disney Dollars (no longer printed, but still accepted), in circulation at The Magic Kingdoms and at other establishments owned and operated by The Walt Disney Company.

Scrip gift cards and gift certificates[edit]

A scrip card from a babysitting group

In the retail and fundraising industries, scrip is now issued in the form of gift cards, eCards, or less commonly paper gift certificates. Physical gift cards often have a magnetic strip or optically readable bar code to facilitate redemption at the point of sale.

In the late 1980s, the term scrip evolved to include a fundraising method popular with non-profit organizations like schools, bands and athletic groups.[13] With scrip fundraising, retailers offer the gift certificates and gift cards to non-profit organizations at a discount. The non-profit organizations sell the gift cards to member's families at full face value. The families redeem the gift cards at full face value, and the discount or rebate is retained by the non-profit organization as revenue.[14]

Commercial gift cards[edit]

Visa, Mastercard and American Express gift cards are initially funded by a credit card or bank account, after which the funding account and gift card are not connected to one another. Once the predetermined funds are consumed, the card number expires. A gift of a gift card, maybe in an attractive wrapper, may be seen as more socially acceptable than a gift of cash. It also prevents the gift being spent on something the giver views as undesirable (or used as savings).

However, unless the gift card is obtained at a discount (paying less than the actual value of the card), buying scrip with ordinary money is arguably pointless, as it then ties up the money until it is used, and usually it may only be used at one store. Furthermore, not all gift cards issued are redeemed. In 2006, the value of unredeemed gift cards was estimated at almost US$8 billion.[15]

Another disadvantage of gift cards is that some issuers charge "maintenance fees" on the cards, particularly if they are not used after a certain period of time; or the card will expire after a given period of time.[16] Some provinces and states in North America (e.g. California, Ontario, Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington) have enacted laws to eliminate non-use fees or expirations,[17] but because the laws often only apply to single-merchant cards[18] buyers have to review the gift card conditions prior to purchase to determine exact restrictions and fees.[19] Additionally, if a retailer goes bankrupt, gift cards can suddenly become worthless. Even if stores do not close immediately, the company may stop accepting the cards.[20] This became a significant issue during the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, prompting the Consumers Union to call upon the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the issue.[21]

Land scrip (United States)[edit]

Land scrip was a right to purchase federal public domain land in the United States, a common form of investment in the 19th century. As a type of federal aid to local governments or private corporations, Congress would grant land in lieu of cash. Most of the time the grantee did not seek to acquire any actual land but rather would sell the right to claim the land to private investors in the form of scrip. Often the land title was finalized only after the scrip was resold several times utilizing land agents also called warrant brokers.[22] These grants came in the form of railroad land grants, university land grants, and grants to veterans for war service.[23][24]

Land scrip (Canada)[edit]

In 19th-century Western Canada, the federal government devised a system of land grants. Notes in the form of money scrip (valued at $160 or $240) or land scrip, valued at 160 acres (65 ha) or 240 acres (97 ha), were offered to Métis people in exchange for their Aboriginal rights.[25] Scrip was also issued to white settlers and members of the North-West Mounted Police.[26] Land was claimed at a Dominion Lands Act office,[27] often being far from where the Métis lived. The available land was located in northern Saskatchewan, Alberta,[28] and Manitoba[26] as opposed to the Métis' more southern homeland.[29] Monetary scrip was also issued.[30] Many Métis sold their scrip to land speculators at prices far below their actual worth,[31] with estimates placing the amount of scrip sold as high as 12,560 (out of 14,849).[32][33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Free Land!" in Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience at Library and Archives Canada
  2. ^ Chatters, Charles H. (March 1933). "Is Municipal Scrip a Panacea?". Public Management. 9: 323–325. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8292.1933.tb01317.x.
  3. ^ "29 CFR 531.34 - Payment in scrip or similar medium not authorized". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2016-07-12.
  4. ^ List of companies paying scrip dividends
  5. ^ Crying-fox.com
  6. ^ "A maverick money scheme from the 1930s could save the Greek economy". The Guardian. 18 February 2015.
  7. ^ Homegrown Stimulus
  8. ^ Detroit cash keeps hometown humming Detroit News, Detnews.com
  9. ^ In Hagen you can pay with local currency, WDR.de
  10. ^ Overview of Hagen′s Notgeld, the Volmetaler, Volmetaler.org
  11. ^ Iati, Marisa (2019-01-11). "'Breadcoin' is a new currency in D.C. for people in need". Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved 2021-10-18.
  12. ^ A Boon to Kut Chum archive
  13. ^ "Following the Scrip: How an SR-Based Group Revolutionized the Hottest Method of School Fundraising". Santa Rosa Press Democrat
  14. ^ "Managing Your Scrip Program". PTO Today
  15. ^ Eckberg, John (December 2, 2007). "Gift cards popular, unused". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved January 16, 2014.(subscription required)
  16. ^ "Gift cards may bear unwanted fees", Post-Gazette, February 11, 2007
  17. ^ "State Gift Card Consumer Protection Laws" (PDF). Consumers Union. July 19, 2011.
  18. ^ "Keeping the change", December 29, 2007Press Democrat
  19. ^ "Card games: Read the fine print on gift cards", Republican-American, November 4, 2007
  20. ^ "But what happens when the store files for bankruptcy? Instead of a gift you may be stuck with a worthless piece of plastic. Earlier this year, when Sharper Image filed for Chapter 11, people holding its gift cards were told that they could not get their money back or use the card to make a purchase." "Gift Cards: The gift that can stop giving", Defend Your Dollars, Consumers Union, September 12, 2008.
  21. ^ Popken, Ben. "FTC: Protect Gift Card Holders When Companies Go Bankrupt", Consumerist, September 12, 2008
  22. ^ "Scrip Warrant Act of 1855". The Spokesrider. 12 July 2009. Archived from the original on 22 March 2019. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  23. ^ Gates, Paul W. (May 1961). "California's Agricultural College Lands". Pacific Historical Review. 30 (2). University of California Press: 103–122. doi:10.2307/3636696. JSTOR 3636696.
  24. ^ Gates, Paul W. (Summer 1969). "Frontier Land Business in Wisconsin". The Wisconsin Magazine of History. 52 (4). State Historical Society of Wisconsin: 306–327. Retrieved November 1, 2013.
  25. ^ "Free Land!" in Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience at Library and Archives Canada
  26. ^ a b Canada, Library and Archives (2022-06-28). "Finding Métis Scrip". library-archives.canada.ca. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
  27. ^ Muzyka, Kyle (April 25, 2019). "What's Métis scrip? North America's 'largest land swindle,' says Indigenous lawyer". CBC. Retrieved June 3, 2023.
  28. ^ Weber, Bob (June 4, 2022). "Fate of Métis scrip lawsuit in doubt after 17 Alberta plaintiffs ask to withdraw". CBC. Retrieved June 4, 2023.
  29. ^ Andersen, C. (2014). Métis: Race, Recognition, and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood. UBC Press - Rupertsland Centre for Métis Research in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-7748-2723-2. The MNC's narrative traces the geographical boundaries of what it terms the "Métis Homeland" to the historical waterways from northern Ontario to British Columbia and from the Northwest Territories to the northern United States.
  30. ^ "Maplab". www.metisnationdatabase.ca. Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  31. ^ Gwyn, Richard J. (2012-08-21). Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times. Random House of Canada. p. 436. ISBN 978-0-307-35645-1.
  32. ^ "Titles - Métis Scrip produced by LeMay Media, LM0031 | McIntyre Media Inc". www.mcintyre.ca. Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  33. ^ "Scrip". indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca. Retrieved 2023-06-04.

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