During the Kirtland era, when the gathering of new converts to northeast Ohio was at a peak, crippling poverty was a serious issue. One of the proposed solutions was to establish a bank, which would allow the Church to raise money and provide credit for the struggling Saints. However, the timing of the venture was not fortuitous. Due to recent legislature, the bank wasn’t able to get the charter they needed. Requests for all new banks, which were doubling during the Kirtland era, were being denied across Ohio.
Instead, the brethren decided to open the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company. Its doors opened January 2, 1837. Before the year was over, the bank would be forced to close as financial panic gripped the country and opposition grew. The experience would prove to be a refiner’s fire for many Church members; apostasy would lead many to leave and speak out against Joseph Smith and other Church leaders.
At the time, the bank notes for the Kirtland Safety Society were touted as worthless by the Church’s opposition. Today, a single note can sell for over $10,000 and the price rises exponentially if it has been signed by Joseph Smith. Here are just a few examples of what the bank notes created by the Kirtland Safety Society looked like.
This fifty dollar note was signed by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. It features a heard of cattle and other animals being led by a team driver.
Joseph Smith, Heber C. Kimball, and Brigham Young have all signed this five dollar bank note. The note depicts a young man and his dog, as well as young farm boy with a hoe and bag.
This two dollar bank note is a bit mangled, but you can still make out the man and woman having a picnic and watching a group of farmers. The side panels also have a man shearing a sheep and and a ship at sail.
A ten dollar bank note, a farmer is seen relaxing in the top panel, which he poses with what looks like a dog on the side panels.
The twenty dollar bank note featured three women prominently in the center panel.
Since its inception, the Kirtland Safety Society has faced misunderstanding and criticism. If you’d like to learn more, here’s an article by scholar R. McKay White who gave a powerful presentation in 2009 about the myths surrounding the bank and what actually happened.