ILWACO — The economy in Pacific County and the rest of America nearly came to a dead stop at the beginning of the Great Depression, as banks failed and money dried up.
In response, merchants in Southwest Washington were among the first in the nation to try issuing short-term depression scrip in exchange for the IOUs issued by local governments and schools to employees in lieu of paychecks. This unofficial scrip in small denominations could then be spent at local stores.
The story was well covered by local historian Larry Weathers in two issues of the Pacific County Historical Society’s Sou’wester magazine in 1980 and 1981.
Ilwaco merchants issued their colorful Ilwaco Salmon Currency 85 years ago this spring in denominations of $1, 50, 25 and 5 cents, printed by the Ilwaco Tribune. Altogether, approximately 500 pieces of the currency were put into circulation.
Salmon currency immediately became a collector’s item, with Ilwaco Merchants Association Treasurer H.J. Doupé responding to requests from far and wide for examples, exchanging the salmon money for real U.S. funds.
The Chinook Observer is re-sharing this story now in honor of salmon season and the recent sale and pending renovation of the Doupé building in Ilwaco. Included here are Weathers’ story in the Sou’wester, canceled and uncanceled versions of each denomination, and a letter from Doupé responding to a request for a sample.