scrip, temporary substitute for money, securities, or other valuable claims. Business enterprises and municipalities have at times, especially when short of cash, paid employees in scrip, and communities have facilitated trade by using it. Various devices have made it acceptable, e.g., a store that would receive it in exchange for goods. The term scrip has also been applied to money of fractional denominations, and to gift certificates and the like that can be used to pay for purchases from stores, restaurants, and other businesses.
Scrip is any substitute for currency which is not legal tender and is often a form of credit. Scrips were created as company payment of employees and also as a means of payment in times where regular money is unavailable, such as remote coal towns or occupied countries in war time. Other forms of scrip include subway tokens, arcade tokens and tickets, and "points" on some websites.

Scrips have gained historical importance and become a subject of study in numismatics and exonumia due to their wide variety and recurring use.


Company scrip was a credit against the accrued wages of employees. In the United States, where everything in a mining or logging camp was run, created and owned by a company, scrip provided the worker with credit when their wages had been depleted. These remote locations were cash poor. Workers had very little choice but to purchase meals and goods at a company store. In this way, the company could place enormous markups on goods in a company store, making workers completely dependent on the company, thus enforcing their "loyalty" to the company. While scrip was a de facto form of currency, employees were rarely paid in scrip. Additionally, while employees could exchange scrip for cash, it was rarely done so at face value. Scrip in this context was valid only within that area or town where it was issued. While store owners in neighboring communities could accept the scrip as currency, they rarely provided a 1 for 1 exchange. This was to avoid the risk of having coins/currency that were worthless anywhere else.

When U.S. President Andrew Jackson issued his Specie Circular of 1836 due to credit shortages, Virginia Scrip was accepted as payments for federal lands.

In nineteenth-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 or 240 acres (65 hectares or 97 hectares) were offered to the Métis people in exchange for their Aboriginal rights.

Scrip as a de facto form of currency within the setting of the mining or logging industry was discontinued around 1952.

Scrip is also related to the stock market where companies pay dividends in the form of scrip rather than paying actual currency. It is also a written document that acknowledges debt.

After the Great War and Second World War, scrip was used in Germany and Austria; detailed accounts are in Notgeld.

Modern use

Scrip survives in modern times in various forms. 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.

Gift certificates

Scrip is now issued in the form of gift certificates (alternatively gift vouchers), or gift cards. The two are essentially the same except that the cards automate the checkout and accounting processes. Cards usually have a barcode or magnetic strip, which can be processed through a standard electronic credit card machine.

Cards do not have any value until they are sold, at which time the cashier enters the amount which the customer wishes to put on the card. This amount is rarely stored on the card but is instead noted in the store's database, which is crosslinked to the card ID. The major exception is in many public transport systems and library photocopiers, where a simplified system (with no network) stores the value only on the card itself (a stored-value card). To thwart counterfeiting, the data is encrypted, though not very strongly given the relatively low amounts of money involved. The magstripe is also often placed differently than on credit cards, so they cannot be read or written with standard equipment.

Scrip fundraising

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 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. Great Lakes Scrip Center, the nation’s largest broker of scrip gift cards, reports that more than 3 million US households and 13,000 non-profit organizations use scrip fundraising.

Gifts cards are increasingly being offered as consumer incentives at no cost or for a substantial discount. For example, reward points given for the use of credit cards can be exchanged for a variety of gift cards and some companies will offer high value gift cards at a discount. Gift cards are readily available at a discount using online trading services.

There are websites that allow users to trade, donate, buy and sell gift cards. Sellers use these websites because the gift card is not to a store of their liking, and buyers because this provides opportunities to buy these cards for less than they are nominally worth at the business.

Online games

See also: Virtual economy

Many online games (MMORPGs) provide a type of virtual currency that can only be earned within the game and/or be purchased with real legal tender from outside the game. Typically this currency cannot be exchanged for real legal tender after it has been acquired, but there are exceptions. Some games are free, but sometimes players are required to donate currency in exchange for additional items or gaming options, which can be traded among the gaming community and used as currency or traded back for real money. The ability to exchange real money for virtual currency or scrip and then back into real money raises a great many new issues, some of which parallel traditional issues with scrip and some of which are new.

While other online games may not provide scrip in the form of virtual currency or may not redeem it for real legal tender, an active market in trading virtual assets acquired in-game may still exist outside the game. In some cases, this may involve payments in real legal tender (e.g., trading of in-game assets on eBay). This, too, can be considered a modern form of scrip.

The amount of trade in these forms of online scrip can be very substantial, although the very nature of scrip strongly constrains its influence to the environment in which it was issued. Nevertheless, as the amount of trade grows and its value in real-world currency increases, many new and unexplored economic, legal, and policy questions arise; see the separate article Virtual economy for further discussion.


Unless the gift card is obtained at a discount (paying less than the actual value of the card), some point out that trading real money for scrip is unproductive as it then ties up that money until it is used, and usually may only be used at one store. Furthermore, not all gift cards issued are redeemed. In 2006, the value of unredeemed gift cards has been estimated at almost US$8 billion.

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. Therefore, once the predetermined funds are consumed, the card number expires. Gift card holders are thus able to make riskier Internet purchases, without the fear of having to persuade a merchant to stop pulling funds from them.

VISA and MasterCard also have re-loadable debit cards.

One disadvantage of gift scrip is that some gift card providers 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, 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.

Military scrip

Military personnel deployed in other countries (protective or occupation) are generally paid in military scrip, which prevents legal tender from going into the black market, plus it is an excellent way of keeping tabs on military payments and spending. This type of scrip can be exchanged through the military for legal tender upon return to the home nation. Military occupying powers have also been known to issue occupation scrip for local civilian use as a means of controlling the local economies.

Scrip bid

In Australia, the term "scrip bid" is used to describe a takeover offer where shares are offered partly or wholly in place of cash. This means that if a take over bid is accepted, shareholders in the target company will receive shares in the new merged entity. This has advantageous tax implications for investors as gains on the sale of shares acquired on or after 19 September 1985 are subject to capital gains tax. By receiving shares instead of cash the realisation of the capital asset can be delayed to take better advantage of capital loss offsets. Additionally, tax payers are only taxed on half the capital gain if they hold the asset for more than 12 months.

See also


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