During the period known as the Wild West, there were a number of coins in circulation, and until 1857, foreign coins, especially the Spanish dollar, were used in the U.S.
Here’s a list of coins that could be found in play, although I suggest simplifying it to penny, nickel, and dollar:
- Half cent: 1⁄2¢, 1793–1857
- Large cents (various designs): 1¢, 1793-1857
- Two-cent bronze: 2¢, 1863–1873
- Three-cent nickel: 3¢, 1865–1889
- Half dime: 5¢, 1792–1873
- Twenty-cent piece: 20¢, 1875–1878
- Gold dollar: $1.00, 1849–1889
- Quarter eagle: $2.50, 1792–1929
- Three-dollar piece: $3.00, 1854–1889
- Half eagle: $5.00, 1795–1929
- Eagle: $10.00, 1795–1933
- Double eagle: $20.00, 1849–1933
- Half-union: $50.00
In fantasy games, the gold piece is the standard, so let’s just equate that to $1 for now, and see how this compares to the standard equipment list in the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook.
Looking at advertisements from the mid- to late-1800’s, I found the average price for a regular horse was $75. The price for a riding horse in the PHB is 75 gp. Amazing!
Similarly, a pony was $25, which is comparable to the pony price in the Player’s Handbook of 30 gp.
Period advertisements also showed a saddle and saddlebag cost about $25. To buy those from the PHB will cost you 14 gp. That’s not exact, but it’s close.
Here are some additional items I found for sale in the mid- to late-1800’s:
- A decent revolver cost about $25.
- A torch cost just a penny.
- A small hammer was 50 cents.
- A cost lantern $10.
- A backpack cost $2.
- Nine good cigars only cost 25 cents.
If you consider a cowboy could make about $1/day in the 1800’s, this all seems to be a good equation. Since most of the items in the PHB can be purchased with copper, silver, and gold, there’s little reason to convert electrum and platinum to dollars, but here they are:
Fantasy Coins to US Currency
- Platinum Piece = $100 (A full Union coin was never minted for $100, but I say go for it!)
- Electrum Piece = $10 (Substitute a Liberty $10 coin, minted from 1838-1907)
- Gold Piece = $1
- Silver = $.10
- Copper = $.01
As for paper notes, here is some history for you:
- 1816 to 1836: The Second Bank of the United States was chartered.
- 1837 to 1862: In the Free Banking Era there was no formal central bank, and banks issued their own notes again.
- 1861: Congress introduced the Demand Note, which was non-interest bearing.
- 1861: The first $10 note which featured Abraham Lincoln on it.
- 1862: Congress authorizes a new class of currency, known as “United States notes,” or “Legal Tender notes.” These notes are characterized by a red seal and serial number.
- 1865: The United States Secret Service is established to deter counterfeiters, whose activities diminish the public’s confidence in the nation’s currency.