A scrip (or chit in India) is any substitute for legal tender. It is often a form of credit. Scrips have been created for payment of employees under truck systems, and for use in local commerce at times when regular currency was unavailable, for example in remote coal towns, military bases, ships on long voyages, or occupied countries in wartime. Besides company scrip, other forms of scrip include land scrip, vouchers, token coins such as subway tokens, IOUs, arcade tokens and tickets, and points on some credit cards.
Scrips have gained historical importance and become a subject of study in numismatics and exonumia due to their wide variety and recurring use. Scrip behaves similarly to a currency, and as such can be used to study monetary economics.
A variety of forms of scrip were used at various times in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In United States mining or logging camps where everything was owned and operated by a single company, scrip provided the workers with credit when their wages had been depleted. These remote locations were cash poor. Workers had very little choice but to purchase food and other goods at a company store. In this way, the company could charge enormous markups on goods in a company store, making workers completely dependent on the company, thus enforcing their "loyalty" to the company. Additionally, while employees could exchange scrip for cash, this could rarely be done at face value. This kind of scrip was valid only within the settlement where it was issued. While store owners in neighboring communities could accept the scrip as money, they rarely did so at face value, as it was worth less than that.
In 19th-century Western Canada, the federal government devised a system of land grants called scrip. Notes in the form of money scrip (valued at $160 or $240) or land scrip, valued at 160 acres (65 ha) or 240 acres (97 ha), were offered to Métis people in exchange for their Aboriginal rights.
The expression "scrip" is also used in the stock market where companies can sometimes pay dividends in the form of additional shares/stock rather than in money. It is also a written document that acknowledges debt.
Scrip was used extensively in prisoner-of-war (POW) camps during World War II, at least in countries that complied with the Third Geneva Convention. Under the Geneva Conventions, enlisted POWs could be made to work, but had to be paid for their labor, but not necessarily in cash. Since ordinary money could be used in escape attempts, they were given scrip that could only be used with the approval of camp authorities, usually only within the camps. The utility of the scrip varied from case to case. In Germany, in particular, the general lack of goods available at POW camps meant that many Allied POWs in German captivity found little use for their POW scrip (Lagergeld in German).
Poker chips, also referred to as casino tokens, are commonly used as money with which to gamble. The use of chips as company money in the early 19th century in Devon, England, in the Wheal Friendship copper mine gave its name to a local village: Chipshop.
Stamp scrip was a type of local money designed to be circulated and not to be hoarded.
One type of this worked this way: Each scrip certificate had printed boxes; every month a stamp costing a certain amount (in a typical case, 1% of the face value) had to be purchased and stuck in a box, otherwise the scrip lost all its value, providing a great incentive to spend it quickly. It was used successfully in Germany and Austria in the early 1930s, after national currencies collapsed. National governments considered themselves threatened by the success of stamp scrip projects, and shut them down; similar misgivings discouraged their later use elsewhere.
The Alberta Social Credit Party government in 1937 issued "prosperity certificates," a form of provincial currency, in an effort to encourage spending. This scrip had boxes in which a stamp equal to 2% of the value had to be affixed each week. Thus, the value of the certificate was covered by the cost of the stamps at year's end when it matured. It is said there were literal showers of dried out stamps cascading to the ground when these certificates were pulled out of pockets in payment for something. But they did give a boost to the provincial economy.
Scrip survives in modern times in various forms.
The use of locally issued scrip accepted by multiple businesses within a community has increased during the Late-2000s recession. Community-wide scrip usage has begun or is on the rise in Ithaca, New York; Detroit; The Berkshires; Pittsboro, North Carolina; Traverse City, Michigan; Lamar, Colorado; Calgary, Canada and Hagen, Germany.
Thailand's township Amphoe Kut Chum once issued its own local scrip called Bia Kut Chum: Bia is Thai for cowry shell, which was once used as small change, and still so used in metaphorical expressions. To side-step implications that the community intended their scrip as an unlawful substitute for currency, it now issues exchange coupons called Boon Kut Chum.
Some companies still issue scrip notes and token coin, good for use at company points of sale. Among these are the Canadian Tire money for the Canadian Tire stores and gasbars in Canada, and the Disney dollars (no longer printed, but still accepted), used at Disney resorts.
In the retail and fundraising industries, scrip is now issued in the form of gift cards, eCards, or less commonly paper gift certificates. Physical gift cards often have a magnetic strip or optically readable bar code to facilitate redemption at the point of sale.
In the late 1980s, the term scrip evolved to include a fundraising method popular with non-profit organizations like schools, bands and athletic groups. With scrip fundraising, retailers offer the gift certificates and gift cards to non-profit organizations at a discount. The non-profit organizations sell the gift cards to member's families at full face value. The families redeem the gift cards at full face value, and the discount or rebate is retained by the non-profit organization as revenue.
VISA, MasterCard and American Express gift cards are initially funded by a credit card or bank account, after which the funding account and gift card are not connected to one another. Once the predetermined funds are consumed, the card number expires. A gift of a gift card, maybe in an attractive wrapper, may be seen as more socially acceptable than a gift of cash. It also prevents the gift being spent on something the giver views as undesirable (or used as savings).
However, unless the gift card is obtained at a discount (paying less than the actual value of the card), buying scrip with ordinary money is arguably pointless, as it then ties up the money until it is used, and usually it may only be used at one store. Furthermore, not all gift cards issued are redeemed. In 2006, the value of unredeemed gift cards was estimated at almost US$8 billion.
Another disadvantage of gift cards is that some issuers charge "maintenance fees" on the cards, particularly if they are not used after a certain period of time; or the card will expire after a given period of time. Some provinces and states in North America (e.g. California, Ontario, Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington) have enacted laws to eliminate non-use fees or expirations, but because the laws often only apply to single-merchant cards buyers have to review the gift card conditions prior to purchase to determine exact restrictions and fees. Additionally, if a retailer goes bankrupt, gift cards can suddenly become worthless. Even if stores do not close immediately, the company may stop accepting the cards. This became a significant issue during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, prompting the Consumers Union to call upon the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the issue.
Land scrip was a right to purchase federal public domain land in the United States, a common form of investment in the 19th century. As a type of federal aid to local governments or private corporations, Congress would grant land in lieu of cash. Most of the time the grantee did not seek to acquire any actual land but rather would sell the right to claim the land to private investors in the form of scrip. Often the land title was finalized only after the scrip was resold several times. These grants came in the form of railroad land grants, university land grants, and grants to veterans for war service.
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