Our New Country Needs New Money: Colonial Money Simulation

There certainly can’t be a greater Grievance to a Traveler, from one Colony to another than the different values their Paper Money bears.

—an English visitor, ca.1742


Students use different kinds of paper money to purchase items to learn about the problem in colonial times when each colony had its own currency. The students will find that it is nearly impossible to complete tasks due to the confusion.


  1. With student help, generate a list of things that colonial people might have sold in stores.
  2. Demonstrate how to fold an 8½"-by-11" piece of paper to create nine sections.
  3. Divide the class into thirteen equal groups of students. Assign to each group the name of one of the original thirteen colonies. Each group will set up a store.
  4. Have the students create a sign for their store describing the items for sale with the prices listed.
  5. The students will design the money they will use, making up a name and value for each type. The name of the money shouldn’t be shared with other colonists. (It is important that the money have different names and values.)
  6. Once the stores are set up for business and the money is made, two students from each group must visit the other colonies to purchase the items on the list. Two students stay behind to mind the store and make transactions. At the signal, the shoppers are free to roam from colony to colony spending their money. Once it becomes apparent that this is not an easy task, gather the group back for discussion.

Discussion Questions

  • What made it challenging to shop for the items on your list?
  • Did you have any arguments over prices?
  • How did you resolve issues that arose?
  • Were you able to successfully buy the items you needed?
  • Why do you think the new United States government was determined to create a common monetary system?
  • What was the most confusing part of this activity?

Suggested Websites

Colonial Currency, A Project of the Robert H. Gore, Jr. Numismatic Endowment, University of Notre Dame

History Now: The Constitution

Library of Congress Constitution Resources

US Department of the Treasury, Education and History

US Mint, Learn