In God We Trust; All Others Cash

Pennsylvanian Merchant? New York Merchant? Portland Merchant?

Dear Quote Investigator: Today credit cards are commonplace in the U.S., but in the past many shopkeepers hesitated to extend credit to customers. Occasionally, reluctant businesses displayed a humorous sign:

In God We Trust. All Others Pay Cash

The phrase “In God We Trust” has a long history. Its prominence grew when it appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864. The sign twisted this well-known expression. Would you please examine the history of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in “The Philadelphia Inquirer” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 4, 1877: 1

Dull Times have driven many merchants to the cash system, and they are now ornamenting their stores with mottoes such as: “Pay to-day, trust to-morrow;” “If I trust, I bust;” “In God we trust; all others cash.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

An intriguing precursor appeared in “The Evening Star” of Washington D.C. on May 4, 1865. 2

There was something of an incongruity in the mottoes of a store window in Portland, on the occasion of the recent funeral of the President:—“In God we trust.” “Terms cash.”

This text appeared in other papers during the same month such as the “Buffalo Daily Courier” of New York 3 and “The Janesville Gazette” of Wisconsin. 4

The sign stating “In God we trust” was probably part of the funeral decorations whereas the “Terms cash” sign was already displayed in the store window. Thus, the combination was likely unintentional; nevertheless, the newspaper item suggested that the juxtaposition was funny because of the natural interpretation: God has our trust, but the customer does not, and he or she must provide cash.

This comical item may have facilitated the construction of the saying under examination. The item continued to circulate in the following years. For example, in 1871 “The Burlington Free Press” of Vermont printed the tale but moved the store location to New York. In addition, a different story based on a comical combination was appended: 5

There is a story that when New York was draped for a departed citizen, mid the emblems of mourning over a large drygoods house, was entwined the sentiment, “In God we trust,” Terms Cash, the latter legend being the permanent sign, which appeared in rather awkward proximity to the more recent announcement.

This has been matched, however, by a religious society in an Indiana town which the other day issued tickets for a lecture inscribed—“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Admit one.”

On April 4, 1877 “The Philadelphia Inquirer” mentioned the sign as noted previously:

. . . they are now ornamenting their stores with mottoes such as: “Pay to-day, trust to-morrow;” “If I trust, I bust;” “In God we trust; all others cash.”

On April 17, 1877 “The Daily Graphic” of New York City referred to the sign while apparently misspelling “Allegheny”: 6

An Alleghany merchant has stuck up the sign, “In God we trust; all others cash.” The Lotos Club has adopted this for a motto.

Also on April 17, 1977 a newspaper in “Reading, Pennsylvania” printed the news item with the “Allegheny” spelling: 7

An Allegheny merchant has put up a sign: “In God we trust; all others cash.”

In June 1877 a Vermont newspaper presented a variant saying with a store location “on Broadway”. This likely refers to New York City: 8

There is a merchant possessing decided ideas where the line of credit should be drawn, who announces by a placard in his show window on Broadway: “In God we trust. All others are expected to pay cash.”

In August 1877 a newspaper in Wichita, Kansas printed another variant: 9

“In God We Trust” — Everybody Else Cash

In 1879 a newspaper in Sidney, Kansas printed the following question and answer: 10

Do you trust?
“In God we trust,” other folks pay as they go.

In 1880 a newspaper in Bellevue, Louisiana printed a version with “Providence” instead of “God” while acknowledging another Louisiana paper: 11

“In Providence we trust”—everybody else cash.—[St. Landry Democrat.

In conclusion, this article presents a snapshot of current evidence. The earliest citation appeared in a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania newspaper suggesting that the sign was displayed in a Pennsylvanian store. The crafter remains unknown. The combined phrases in the 1865 precursor citations may have aided the formulation of the 1877 sign.

Image Notes: Picture of a two-cent piece with 1864 design, Brandon Grossardt created the photograph; James Longacre created the coin design; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Image has been cropped, resized, and retouched.

(Great thanks to Jonathan Lighter whose inquiry and comments led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Lighter pointed to an instance with the phrase “In God we trust – everybody else cash.” Special thanks to Barry Popik and Fred R. Shapiro for their pioneering research. Popik identified a precursor instance with “In God we trust. Terms cash.” Also thanks to discussant Joel S. Berson.)

Update History: On December 11, 2017 an explanatory paragraph was added after the 1865 citation.

Notes:

  1. 1877 April 4, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Gleanings by Late Mails, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1865 May 4, The Evening Star, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Washington D.C. (Old Fulton)
  3. 1865 May 10, Buffalo Daily Courier, Gleanings, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1865 May 18, The Janesville Gazette, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Janesville, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1871 January 31, The Burlington Free Press, (Filler item), Quote Page 1, Column 7, Burlington, Vermont. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1877 April 17, The Daily Graphic, Graphicalities, Quote Page 326, Column 4, New York, New York. (Old Fulton)
  7. 1877 April 17, Reading Times and Dispatch, State News, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Reading, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1877 June 20, Green Mountain Freeman, News and Gossip, Quote Page 2, Column 7, Montpelier, Vermont. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1877 August 2, The Wichita City Eagle, A PRONUNCIOTA FROM ATTICA GRANGE, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Wichita, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 1879 October 20, The Ness County Pioneer, (Untitled set of questions and answers), Quote Page 2, Column 3, Sidney, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  11. 1880 February 19, The Bossier Banner, Concerning Newspapers, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Bellevue, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)