I'm going to add something to this topic that's not quite a check, but looks much like one. This is actually a promissory note; a short term loan with an agreement to pay on a set date.
This note was issued on Feb. 19, 1848, but what caught my eye when I found this amongst a dealer box of various checks was the notation at one end: "First day June / Backersville / California." The note is dated just a month after gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill -- but that news didn't hit the papers until March. This really got me curious...
Thanks to a lot of research help on a couple other forums, we were able to piece together this story:
Like many other farmers back East, Francis D. Philbrook (who signed the note) caught gold fever after hearing about the discovery of gold in California. He and some 50 other Maine men pooled their money and bought shares in the ship Cantero. Most of them were passengers when the ship left in late 1849 to sail around the Horn, arriving in California in April 1850.
Philbrook first tried his luck around the gold camp of Bakersville and must have sent word home of his whereabouts, which was noted (albeit misspelled) on the promissory note. (Bakersville was eventually forced to change it's name to Watersford, to avoid confusion with mail going to Bakersfield, further south.)
Apparently Philbrook gave up on mining after a year or so without any luck and resettled about 170 miles north in Butte County, where he borrowed money and tried to start a ranch. And that's where his luck ran out. He died there in 1852, leaving behind a wife and six children back in Maine. The back of the promissory note is blank and there's no indication that the $13.50 Philbrook owed to David M. was ever paid.
That's a lot of history to mine from a little piece of paper and well worth the $8 I spent on it!