As a coin collector it is not uncommon to come across odd tokens, medals, and exonumia. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’ve got and there are hundreds of historical tokens made for various reasons. Beginning in the mid-19th century, fraternal orders such as the Masons, Odd Fellows, Eagles, and Elks issued tokens that could be presented as proof of membership in the order. Masonic pennies specifically, would often feature a chapter’s name on the token.
Because symbolism was so important to fraternal culture, these small coins often held a lot of meaning. The most common representation of the Masons was the letter “G” surrounded by a compass and square, representing the holy geometry of God. At times other masonry tools like keystones, mallets, and chisels were struck into Masonic tokens. Some tokens feature the letters “H.T.W.S.S.T.K.S.,” which means “Hiram the Widow’s Son Sent to King Solomon,” the biblical story that must be acted out to reach the third, or Master’s Degree, in Freemasonry.
Both the Masons and the Odd Fellows employ the “All-Seeing Eye” of God in their imagery, as well as grim skeletal “memento mori” symbols. But an Odd Fellows token might have three chain links (“friendship, love and trust”), a handshake (“friendship”), or a hand holding a heart (“sincere charity”). Bees, scales, and snakes are other esoteric symbols that are found on fraternal pennies.
Many Masonic tokens are scarce today because, “members of the fraternity cherish them highly, and do not ordinarily part with them in their lifetime.”