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Delmonico steak:  a mystery solved

NEW YORK, New York -- The 96-year history of Delmonico's Restaurant in New York includes many small but interesting stories.  One of them concerns the time that Delmonico's issued its own money.


On December 13, 1827, Giovanni ("John") and Pietro ("Peter") Delmonico opened their first cafe, where they sold coffee, wine and pastries.  The business prospered, and they had the immense good fortune to bring their nephew, Lorenzo, into the business.  Under Lorenzo's constant attention to excellence in every detail, Delmonico's Restaurant became synonymous with the highest standards of food and service.

By 1860, there were two Delmonico's Restaurants in New York:  the downtown location, on South William Street (called the "Citadel"), and the uptown location, at the corner of Chambers Street and Broadway. 

In 1836, the Bank of the United States ceased to exist, and this began the 30-year period called the Free Banking Era.  During this period, there was no central bank.  Instead, there was a hodgepodge of state laws without federal regulation, and almost any business could issue its own money.  Not just states and private banks, but railroads, stores, and even individuals issued their own currency. 

The problem was that a dollar issued by the City of Atlanta was worth far less than a dollar issued by the City of New York.  By 1860, more than 30,000 different notes were in circulation, and perhaps a third of them were counterfeit, fraudulent or worthless.  Shoppers had to fill their wallets with notes of different sizes, shapes, and designs.  

In 1863, the Free Banking Era ended when the United States enacted the National Bank Act.  Fed.

Delmonico's Script

During the Civil War, Delmonico's Restaurant issued its own private issue currency.  One of its notes is shown below.  Fed.  The note is dated July 1862.  It shows the restaurant at No. 2 South William Street (called the "Citadel"), but the note does not bear the name of the restaurant.  Instead, the note bears the name "C. Delmonico."

C. Delmonico was Charles Constant Delmonico ("Old Charlie").  He was Lorenzo's brother and the manger of the Citadel.


During the Civil War, Delmonico's Restaurant issued its own currency.  The currency was used then in the same way that currency is used today:  shoppers could use the Delmonico script to pay for their purchases, not just at Delmonico's Restaurant, but at any business in New York and, indeed the United States.  Such was the power of the Delmonico name and reputation.

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