The year of 1862 for the United States was one of tensions and disparity as the relationship between the North and South became more and more strained. The economy was shaky as precious and semi-precious metals rose in value. People were hoarding their coins because it made more sense then to spend them. The metal in a one-cent penny could be worth up to five cents; so people kept their coins stashed away in hopes of saving money.
By the end of 1862 newly minted coins weren’t being spent. Business owners were struggling and needed to find a way to still sell their goods and services. The Union’s government tried to solve this by creating unsupported paper money and even briefly issued postage stamps to use as currency. While a good idea the currency was not ever widely adopted and did little to solve the problem.
During the Napoleonic era the British people had created their own tokens to be used in exchange for goods until the crisis had been taken care of. With most Americans having close descent to the British it wasn’t a far stretch to take on this same idea and thus Civil War Tokens were produced. There were a variety of tokens produced and manufacturers charged an average of 73 cents per hundred tokens. These tokens typically mimicked small change about the size of a modern day penny. Made with metals not in as high of demand such as lead, copper, brass, and sometimes even rubber. For die sinkers and private minters hoping to profit, tokens were a legal gray area they were quick, but careful, to exploit. At the time, counterfeiting laws were specific when it came to gold and silver coinage, but other metals were not in the same category. Two common types of Civil War Tokens were Storecards and Patriotics.
Patriotics were coins that utilized a generic die to create and mass send out to merchants. It was common for them to feature pro-Union slogans and general patriotism- hence the name. These generalized coins were cheaper for merchants to purchase and were the best and easiest way to provide currency for their customers.
Storecards were specialized tokens that would feature a merchant or proprietors name, address, advertisement, etc. These cost more than the Patriotics because they were specific to a business and couldn’t be mass produced in the same fashion as the Patriotics. While each coin was different there was a popular wreath design that often adorned the Storecard coins and it was common for them to be inscripted with something such as “Business Card” or Store Card”.
As the Civil War was coming to a close in 1864 the Civil War Tokens began to lose value. Officially use of them was banned in April with the 1864 Coinage Act. While this act didn’t specifically prohibit Civil War Tokens the cent’s size, weight, and metal composition was revised in a way that mimicked the Civil War Tokens while simultaneously outlawing the tokens.
While Civil War Tokens we’re only used for a short two years there’s an estimated 25 million that were created. With over 10,000 varieties that represented 22 states, 400 towns, and about 1,500 merchants.
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