By Don Major, from The Thurston County Independent, Feb. 19, 1965
The Nation, and Tenino, was gripped by the Great Depression in 1931, and money was scarce. The Independent in November of that year advocated editorially that scrip be used to meet the currency shortage. Then on December 5th, 1931, the matter of emergency struck home with the failure of Citizens Bank of Tenino. Joel Gould, now of Olympia, came over from Buckley to act as liquidator. This tied-up the accounts of the depositors while the affairs of the defunct bank were being adjusted. Thus the shortage of money became acute.
The Tenino Chamber of Commerce met to meet the emergency and agreed to issue scrip to permit the depositors to assign 25% of their bank accounts to the Chamber. The printing press at the Independent office was soon running out of assignment forms and depositors signed for definite amounts of money within the 25% limitations. The printing of $1, $5 and $10 denomination scrip was done on engraved pieces the size of paper money then in use. The 25 cent denomination scrip was the yellow bond paper without any fancy border. Trustees of the Chamber of Commerce Committee, F.W. Wichman, D.M. Major and A.H. Meyers, signed each piece. They agreed to redeem the certificates “During the Process of Liquidation of Citizens Bank Of Tenino”. This scrip printed in December, 1931 totaled $3,255, of which $1,279 was circulated. Eventually the Chamber redeemed $1,079.75 of this scrip.
Some samples of “slice wood”, a new printing material, had been received from Albert Balch of Seattle, who was promoting it for Christmas cards and other items. This was made in a special machine at Aberdeen by a man named Eckersley. Sitka spruce and Port Orford and red cedar were used. The first pieces were flimsy sheets of 1/80th of an inch thick. The 25 on hand were sufficient to put Tenino in the wooden money business. Later the slices were sandwiched with a paper in between. One issue of a thousand even carried a “watermark” reading “Confidence makes good; Money made of wood”, which could be seen by holding it up to the light. This was supported to guard against counterfeiting.
The publicity of Tenino Wooden Money began to snowball in February,1932, the old Seattle Star carrying the story early that month, followed by the Tacoma News-Tribune, Oregonian, Seattle P-I and others. The Halls of Congress heard of the unique method of meeting the money shortage and in March it was featured in the Congressional Record. Thousands of stories and comments appeared over the world in newspapers and magazines. Orders from collectors and souvenir hunters came in increasing demand and eight issues were printed thru 1932-33, mostly in 25 cent denominations, but also in 50 cent and $1. In all $10,308 worth of wooden money was issued of which about $40 was redeemed by the Chamber of Commerce. In April,1935, business people used small wooden fifth cent tax tokens due to a state shortage of tokens. Like the original wooden money, they are now quite valuable.