Working Paper 587

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The Suffolk Banking System Reconsidered

Arthur J. Rolnick - Senior Vice President and Director of Research, 1985-2010
Warren E. Weber - Retired Economist

Published May 1, 1998

Abstract
The best-known example of a privately created and well-functioning interbank payments system is the Suffolk Banking System. Operating in New England between 1825 and 1858, it was the first regionwide net-clearing system for bank notes in the United States. Some historians portray the System as being owned and managed by a coalition of large Boston banks in order to achieve a public purpose. They argue that while the System was not particularly profitable, it maintained par circulation of bank notes throughout the region. We reconsider this history and find the public-purpose view of the Suffolk Banking System to be specious. The System was owned and operated solely by the Suffolk Bank. It was operated not to promote a common currency or any other public purpose, but to serve the private interests of the Suffolk Bank’s shareholders, which it did quite successfully.


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