Quite a few years ago, a collector brought an old Confederate banknote and asked John W. Jones to enlarge it. John, a south Carolina-born artist and commercial illustrator, was stunned to find that quite a lot of Southern currency depicted scenes of slave labors:
Confederate Currency: The Color of Money, is a journey that started six years ago while working as a graphic artist at a blueprint company in Charleston. After enlarging a Confederate bank note for a customer, I found myself looking at a picture of slaves picking cotton. Intrigued and excited, I started researching and documenting the use of slaves on Confederate and Southern states money. I was astonished by the widespread use of slaves on these currencies, and even more shocked by the absence of this information in any history books. The engravings on the bills are so small, that unless you were looking for them, you would miss them.
I decided to bring these engravings to light, as an addition to my series of paintings of the African American experience. I present the engravings as originally portrayed on the currencies without revision. I have used my colorful acrylics on canvas to bring the paintings back to life, and to extract from the dehumanizing engravings, the essential humanity of their subject matter.
John went on to create a series of paintings titled The Color of Money, where he turned the images of slavery on old Confederate money into art.
This one above, titled "Slave Boy," was based on an Alabama $50 note issued by the Central Bank of Alabama and a North Carolina $5 note issued by the now defunct Bank of Wadesborough.