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

Scrip (sometimes called chit) is a term for any substitute for legal tender and is often a form of credit. Scrips were created as company payment of employees under the truck system and also as a means of local commerce in times where regular currency is unavailable, such as remote coal towns, military bases, ships on long voyages, or occupied countries in war time. 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.


Company scrip was a credit against the accrued wages of employees. In the United States, where everything in a mining or logging camp 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 meals and goods at a company store. In this way, the company could place enormous markups on goods in a company store, making workers completely dependent on the company, thus enforcing their "loyalty" to the company. Additionally, while employees could exchange scrip for cash, it was rarely done at face value. Scrip in this context was valid only within that area or town where it was issued. While store owners in neighboring communities could accept the scrip as currency, they rarely provided a one-for-one exchange. This was to avoid the risk of having currency that was worthless anywhere else.

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 19th-century Western Canada, the federal government devised a system of land grants called scrip. 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 the Métis people in exchange for their Aboriginal rights.[1]

During the Great Depression, many local governments were forced to pay employees in scrip at the height of the crisis.[2]

Scrip as a de facto form of currency within the setting of the mining or logging industry was discontinued around 1952.

Scrip is also related to the stock market where companies pay dividends in the form of scrip rather than paying actual currency.[3] It is also a written document that acknowledges debt.

After World War I and World War II, scrip was used in Germany and Austria; detailed accounts are in Notgeld.

Scrip was used extensively in POW camps during World War II, at least in countries that accepted the requirements of the Third Geneva Convention. Enlisted POWs could be made to work under the Geneva Conventions, but had to be paid for their labor, although their wages needed not be in cash. Since hard currency could be used in escape attempts, they were given scrip that could only be used with the approval of camp authorities, usually only at POW camps themselves. The usefulness of the scrip varied from case to case. In Germany, in particular, the general lack of goods available at POW camps meant that many Allied POWs in German captivity found little use for their POW scrip (lagergeld as it was known in German.)[4]

During the Vietnam War, as well as earlier during the Korean War, U.S. soldiers were sent on leave with a scrip marked with expiration dates which could be spent at establishments cooperating in the program. This was done in part to encourage U.S. soldiers to seek their entertainment confined to these areas, but moreover was intended to deny Viet Cong "tax collectors" a prime source of revenue. The expiration dates on these scrips frequently led to a rush by soldiers on leave to spend currency, as well as for soldiers who had not spent their scrip on leave to exchange their scrip with other soldiers heading out to leave for fresher scrip or hard cash, often at an exchange rate that rather favored the outgoing soldiers.[citation needed]

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

Stamp scrip was a type of local currency designed to circulate without being hoarded. The scrip 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 stuck in a box, otherwise the scrip lost all its value, providing great incentive to spend it quickly. It 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]

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 has 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 and Hagen, Germany.[7][8][9][10]

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.[11]

Company-issued customer scrip[edit]

Main article: Company scrip

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 the Disney dollars, used at Disney resorts.

Scrip gift cards and gift certificates[edit]

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 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.[12] 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 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.[13]

Great Lakes Scrip Center, the US's largest broker of scrip gift cards, reports more than 17,000 non-profit organizations have raised more than $500 million with scrip fundraising.[14] Canada's largest scrip fundraising company, Fundscrip, demonstrated scrip's popularity by boasting a 75% repeat purchase rate among groups seeking to easily support their respective causes, and $12 million in fundraising as of 2015.[15]

Gift cards are increasingly being offered as consumer incentives at no cost or for a substantial discount. For example, reward points given for the use of credit cards can be exchanged for a variety of gift cards and some companies will offer high value gift cards at a discount. Gift cards are readily available at a discount using online trading services where users can trade, donate, buy and sell gift cards. Sellers use these websites because the gift card is not to a store of their liking, and buyers because this provides opportunities to buy these cards for less than they are nominally worth at the business. There are other websites that sell a collection of third party gift cards; businesses offer credits to these websites for employee incentives, usually in return for a discount; however discounts for consumers are rarely offered.[16]

An increasing concern with gift cards are their environmental impact. Studies [17] have shown an estimated 1.6 billion plastic gift cards are produced each year, which requires over 9,000 tons of plastic and emits 33,260 tons of carbon dioxide.


VISA, MasterCard and American Express gift cards[18] are initially funded by a credit card or bank account, after which the funding account and gift card are not connected to one another. Therefore, once the predetermined funds are consumed, the card number expires. Gift card holders are thus able to make riskier Internet purchases, without the fear of having to persuade a merchant to stop pulling funds from them. VISA and MasterCard also have re-loadable debit cards.


Unless the gift card is obtained at a discount (paying less than the actual value of the card), it could be reasoned that trading legal tender for scrip is unproductive, as it then ties up that 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.[19]

One disadvantage of gift scrip is that some gift card providers 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.[20] Some provinces and states in North America (e.g. California, Ontario, Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington) have enacted laws to eliminate non-use fees or expirations,[21] but because the laws often only apply to single-merchant cards[22] buyers have to review the gift card conditions prior to purchase to determine exact restrictions and fees.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

Virtual money[edit]

See also: Virtual economy

Many online games (MMORPGs) provide a type of virtual money that can only be earned within the game and/or be purchased with real legal tender from outside the game. Typically this money cannot be exchanged for real legal tender after it has been acquired, but there are exceptions. Some games are free, but sometimes players are required to pay for additional items or gaming options, which can be traded among the gaming community and used as money or traded back for real money. The ability to exchange real money for virtual money or scrip and then back into real money raises a great many new issues, some of which parallel traditional issues with scrip and some of which are new.

While other online games may not provide scrip in the form of virtual currency or may not redeem it for real legal tender, an active market in trading virtual assets acquired in-game may still exist outside the game. In some cases, this may involve payments in real legal tender (e.g., trading of in-game assets on eBay). This, too, can be considered a modern form of scrip.

The amount of trade in these forms of online scrip can be very substantial, although the very nature of scrip strongly constrains its influence to the environment in which it was issued. Nevertheless, as the amount of trade grows and its value in real-world currency increases, many new and unexplored economic, legal, and policy questions arise.

Military scrip[edit]

Military personnel deployed abroad (protective or occupation) are generally paid in military scrip, which prevents legal tender from going into the black market, plus it is an excellent way of keeping tabs on military payments and spending. For US Forces following WWII this was called Military Payment Certificate (MPC). This type of scrip can be exchanged through the military for legal tender upon return to the home nation. Military occupying powers have also been known to issue occupation scrip for local civilian use as a means of controlling the local economies.

Similarly, amongst British troops occupying Germany immediately following the Second World War, plastic coins (longer lasting than paper notes) were issued as part of their wage. These were only tendable at the equivalent of the Post Exchange, to purchase replacement kit.

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. These grants came in the form of railroad land grants, university land grants, and grants to veterans for war service.[26][27]

Scrip bid[edit]

Main article: Scrip bid

In Australia, the term "scrip bid" is used to describe a takeover offer where shares are offered partly or wholly in place of cash. By receiving shares instead of cash the realisation of the capital asset can be delayed to take better advantage of capital loss offsets. Additionally, tax payers are only taxed on half the capital gains tax if they hold the asset for more than 12 months.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Free Land!" in Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience at Library and Archives Canada
  2. ^ Chatters, Charles H. "Is Municipal Scrip a Panacea?" Public Management, March 1933
  3. ^
  4. ^ White, Jennifer (January 2001). "Concentration Camp Money". The Barnes Review. pp. 7–9. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ The Guardian newspaper:A maverick currency scheme from the 1930s could save the Greek economy, 18 February 2015
  7. ^ Homegrown Stimulus
  8. ^ Detroit cash keeps hometown humming Detroit News,
  9. ^ In Hagen you can pay with local currency,
  10. ^ Overview of Hagen′s Notgeld, the Volmetaler,
  11. ^ A Boon to Kut Chum archive
  12. ^ Santa Rosa Press Democrat, "Following the Scrip: How an SR-Based Group Revolutionized the Hottest Method of School Fundraising"
  13. ^ PTO Today, "Managing Your Scrip Program"
  14. ^ GLSC: About our Company
  15. ^ "Over $12 Million Dollars Raised". Fundstream Inc. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Gift card swap". Gift Card Swapping, LLC. 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  17. ^ "The Environmental Waste Caused by Gift Cards", GiftRocket, March 1, 2012
  18. ^ "Gift Cards". American Express. 
  19. ^ Eckberg, John (December 2, 2007). "Gift cards popular, unused". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved January 16, 2014. (subscription required)
  20. ^ "Gift cards may bear unwanted fees", Post-Gazette, February 11, 2007
  21. ^ "State Gift Card Consumer Protection Laws" (PDF). Consumers Union. July 19, 2011. 
  22. ^ "Keeping the change", December 29, 2007Press Democrat
  23. ^ "Card games: Read the fine print on gift cards", Republican-American, November 4, 2007
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ "FTC: Protect Gift Card Holders When Companies Go Bankrupt", Consumerist, September 12, 2008
  26. ^ Gates, Paul W. (May 1961). "California's Agricultural College Lands". Pacific Historical Review (University of California Press) 30 (2): 103–122. doi:10.2307/3636696. Retrieved October 30, 2013. 
  27. ^ Gates, Paul W. (Summer 1969). "Frontier Land Business in Wisconsin". The Wisconsin Magazine of History (State Historical Society of Wisconsin) 52 (4): 306–327. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 

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