Stickered Pennies from around the United States

Have you seen a Penny with a sticker on one side? 

In 1935, R. Stanton Avery invented self adhesive labels and sticker advertising began. A couple of decades later, affixing advertising stickers to U.S. coins came into its heyday. Like their predecessor trade tokens, stickered coins were not exclusively made for business advertisement. Some employers paid employees with them in an effort to demonstrate how vital they were to the local economy. Some were used as premiums, prizes, campaign handouts or commemorated a special occasion such as a town’s anniversary.


MacDougall’s Stickered Lincoln Penny, Seattle, WA
“SPM Small Profit Margin” Saves your pennies

MacDougall’s department store operated on the SE corner of 2nd & Pike in downtown Seattle from 1908 to the 1960’s. It was the smallest of downtown Seattle’s major department stores. According to historian Clark Humphrey, this department store was the first to make the transition from gaslight to electricity in Seattle along with being the first with a passenger elevator to take customers to one of its five floors. The five-story building located at 2nd Avenue and Pike Street, had the wide Chicago windows and steel framing of the most modern department stores of the early 1900s. Demolished 1971 to make way for a parking lot.


Campaign Stickered Lincoln Penny, Rockwall, TX
“All for Hall from Rockwall” Lt. Governor

Politician Ralph Hall, lead an interesting life. At 12, while working in a local pharmacy, he sold two cartons of Old Golds, two Coca-Colas and all the newspapers they had to Bonnie and Clyde. After flying  Hellcat fighter aircraft during World War II, he served in the U.S. Senate 1980-2014, switching parties in 2004 from Democrat to Republican. At the age of 91 Hall lost his seat in Texas’s 4th congressional district. There is an airport, man-made lake and an expressway named after him in Rockwall, TX. Hall would frequently chat with constituents or hand out pennies bearing his name. When the aides tried to scrap the penny giveaway program they got an earful from the public.


The Gay Dolphin Stickered Lincoln Penny, Myrtle Beach, SC
I was at the Gay Dolphin Myrtle Beach S.C.

First opened in 1946 The Gay Dolphin Gift Cove is a beachside souvenir emporium stuffed with over 70,000 items. It first opened in 1946 (when “gay” simply meant “happy” to the owners when devising their whimsical, nautical name), and claims to be the “nation’s largest” gift emporium. The roughly 30,000 square feet is like a maze, even selling an “I Got Lost in the Gay Dolphin” tee shirt. Exploring the wares leads to encounters with pirates, yeti, velociraptor, mermaids, alligator heads, seashells and of courses, dolphins. Few stickered pennies can be found with original sticker advertisement on them.

The Compton Fair Stickered Penny, Compton, CA
Compton Fair Apr. 9 thru 11 at Compton College

Compton Community College was established in 1927 as a component of the Compton Union High School District. From 1932 to 1949, it operated as a four-year junior college, incorporating the last two years of high school as well as the first two years of college. There isn’t much on the Compton Fair and whether it was a reoccurring event as well as if it was just for students or for the community of Compton.

The Aunt Jemima Stickered Cent
Nancy Sasser and Aunt Jemima Make ¢ for You

Aunt Jemima is a brand of pancake mix, syrup, and other breakfast foods owned by the Quaker Oats Company of Chicago, a subsidiary of PepsiCo. The trademark dates to 1893, although Aunt Jemima pancake mix debuted in 1889. Nancy on the sticker perhaps refers to the former slave, Nancy Green, hired by R. T. Davis Milling Company as a spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima pancake mix in 1890.

The Exchange Lincoln Cent, Largo, Flordia
The Exchange Largo, Fla

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES, also referred to as The Exchange) is the retailer on U.S. Army and Air Force installations worldwide. For more than 100 years before the post exchange system was created, traveling merchants known as sutlers provided American soldiers with goods and services during times of war. Sutlers served troops at Army camps as far back as the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars.

On 25 July 1895, the War Department issued General Orders No. 46, directing commanders at every post to establish a post exchange “wherever practicable.” Post exchanges served two missions: first, “to supply the troops at reasonable prices with the articles of ordinary use, wear, and consumption, not supplied by the Government, and to afford them a means of rational recreation and amusement,” and second, “provide the means for improving the messes” through exchange profits. Since its establishment, the Exchange has been involved in 14 major military operations (to include World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Balkans and Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom) as well as several dozen humanitarian and disaster relief contingencies.


A shinplaster was a common name for paper money of low denomination circulating widely in the frontier economies of the 19th century. These notes were in various places issued by banks, merchants, wealthy individuals and associations, either as banknotes, or circulating IOUs. They were often a variety of token intended to alleviate a shortage of small change in growing frontier regions. They were sometimes used in company shop economies or peonages in place of legal tender.

Shinplasters circulated in the United States from 1837 to 1863, during the period known as the “Free Banking Period.”  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name comes from the quality of the paper, which was so cheap that with a bit of starch it could be used to make papier-mâché-like plasters to go under socks and warm shins.

During the “Free Banking Period”, only state-chartered banks existed. They could issue bank notes against specie (gold and silver coins) and the states heavily regulated their own reserve requirements, interest rates for loans and deposits, the necessary capital ratio etc. These banks had existed since 1781, in parallel with the Banks of the United States. The Michigan Act (1837) allowed the automatic chartering of banks that would fulfill its requirements without special consent of the state legislature. This legislation made creating unstable banks easier by lowering state supervision in states that adopted it. The real value of a bank bill was often lower than its face value, and the issuing bank’s financial strength generally determined the size of the discount. By 1797 there were 24 chartered banks in the U.S.; with the beginning of the Free Banking Era (1837) there were 712.

During the free banking era, the banks were short-lived compared to today’s commercial banks, with an average lifespan of five years. About half of the banks failed, and about a third of which went out of business because they could not redeem their notes.

In Canada, the term shinplaster was widely used for 25-cent paper monetary notes which circulated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first design was printed on March 1, 1870 and the final design was first printed on July 2, 1923 The term likely arose from the previously issued 5 shilling note (1/4 Pound) which also bore the french term “Cinq Piastre” on the face.

Canadian 25¢ shinplaster

In Australia, shinplasters or calabashes (as they were known in southern Queensland) were a feature of the Squatters’ vast pastoral enterprises, and often circulated in the towns of the bush alongside and in place of legal tender. These private IOUs circulated widely, at times making up the bulk of cash in circulation, especially in the 1840s and 50s.

In some places they formed the core of a company shop economy, circulating as private currencies. They were often of such low quality that they could not be hoarded, and shopkeepers off the property would not take them, as they would deteriorate into illegibility before they could be redeemed.

There are tales of unscrupulous shopkeepers and others baking or otherwise artificially aging their calabashes given as change to travelers so that they crumbled to uselessness before they could be redeemed.

As commerce and trade grew in centres such as Toowoomba, more and more calabashes were issued, and more and more merchants, squatters and others engaged in transactions were forced to give their ‘paper’ in change or as payment for goods and services

Picture via National Library of Australia

Disney Dollars

Disney dollars are a form of corporate scrip sold by The Walt Disney Company and redeemable for goods or services at many Disney facilities.
Similar in size, shape and design to the paper currency of the United States, most bills bear the image of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Dumbo and/or a drawing of one of the landmarks of the Disneyland Resort or the Walt Disney World Resort. The currency is accepted at the company’s United States theme parks, the Disney cruise ships, the Disney Store and at certain parts of Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Caribbean.

The idea of Disney Dollars first started when Harry Brice, a silhouette cutter on Main Street in Disneyland was visiting a Disneyana (Disney Collectors) Convention.  Mr. Brice thought:

I couldn’t believe that people were paying, money for — anything with Disn​ey on it.  So I began to wonder, ‘why couldn’t Disney make something just for the collector?’ So I came up with the idea to make a souvenir item, which would be sold in the park, that looked like money.” (Clark & Cahill, 1987, 4)

Brice’s concept for a selection of souvenir currency was shared with his associates and they got the okay to begin a design process.  Some of the original ideas were to create “a three dollar bill with a picture of the Three Pigs or a seven dollar bill with the Dwarfs”, In fact the first rendering of the Disney Dollar was created as an advertisement tool.  As seen in the image of Disneyland’s Star Tours attraction

The first series released was illustrated by the Creative Service Illustrator Matt Mew. The printing was done by EPI of Battlecreek, Michigan.  They were known for high quality printing using intaglio steel engraving. This printing process along with using special 100% cotton paper, “gives the bills the look and feel of real money”.

Disney Dollars were officially released to the public in 1987; the first series was the A series released at DisneyWorld and Disneyland. The bills stated, “May Be Used As Legal Tender Only At Disneyland”. Shortly thereafter both the D series and the 1987A series were released with “May Be Used As Legal Tender Only At Disneyland and Disneyworld” Disney printed 870,000 of the original series for the May 5, 1987 release at both parks. Each bill was series “A” or “D”. The former created for Disneyland in Anaheim, California (hence the “A”), and the latter “D” for Walt Disney World in Florida. New Disney dollars have been produced every year until the discontinuation since 1987 except 1992, 2004 and 2010.​

Disney Dollars have changed quite a  bit since 1987, But they have also kept some key features too. Key features starting with the 1987 Disney Dollar that still continued until 2014 include: tinkerbell and Scrooge McDuck’s signature. Each bill also features an “important” character.  These are Disney Characters of which primarily have been Mickey Mouse on the $1, Goofy on the $5 and Minnie Mouse on the $10. However In 2007, 2011, and 2014, a non character portrait has been used.

Masonic Tokens

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.”

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Encased Pennies

An encased penny is a penny, that has been forcibly inserted into a prepared ring of metal. The metal encasement will typically have been stamped with an advertising or souvenir message. Encased pennies have been in existence for about a century but they are not quite as old as elongated coins, which arose in the 1890s. The invention of aluminum around the turn of the century made the encased pennies an easy and inexpensive souvenir or advertisement. 

Aluminum is a strong and easily formed metal; to create encased pennies, a coining press bore obverse and reverse dies, as well as a collar. The dies formed the designs on the encasement, while the collar restrained the metal of the encasement during striking. The dies and collars served the same functions as the same parts on a standard coining presses.

For the simplest form (a round ring), a blank ring of aluminum with a penny in the central hole was dropped onto the anvil die. The press operator would align the coin manually, striving to keep the coin from being out of rotation with the designs of the ring. With both elements in place, the press would be cycled.

As they struck the encasement and penny, the dies formed the design elements on the encasement. At the same time, the metal of the encasement flowed outward until it came up against the collar. The metal surrounding the hole flowed inward, against the coin, locking the two pieces together.

Encased coins have often been nicknamed “lucky pennies,” since many of the pennies were inserted into encasements that beared messages and Western symbols of luck. The legend “I bring good luck” was common, as were such traditional good luck symbols as the horseshoe and four-leaf clover.


World War II temporarily halted the production of encased coins,. Most private minters supported conservation of metal for the war effort. Production and marketing of encased coins resumed shortly after the end of the war.

Encased coins were typically sold by door-to-door salesmen. Traveling salesmen sold encased coins advertised in catalogs of “various advertising novelties.” Business owners ordered the encased coins from the traveling salesmen, who then “ordered the custom-made pieces directly from the manufacturer.” Businesses could choose from an assortment of stock dies carried by the manufacturers or order custom pieces.

WestCoastMany of the encased coins sold to merchants were touted as the souvenir no one would throw away. Many encased coins would say “Keep me and never go broke” which often went along with the lucky penny theme.

Custom encased coins cost more than those produced using stock dies. Thus, it is not unusual to find pieces that bear a custom message on one side of the encasement and a stock message on the other; such pieces would be cheaper than those with custom messages on both sides.

Encased coins fell out of favor as advertising pieces in the 1960s, as other inexpensive advertising novelties arose, including the Bic pen. Still, some private minters produce encased coins for businesses and social organizations even in the 21st century.

Throughout the years different shapes of encased pennies became popular as ways to set their advertisement apart from others. The round 32-millimeter encasement was the most common; with horseshoe-shaped pieces being the next most popular. There were pieces of other shapes such as a chamber pot, a bell, an arrowhead, or a teddy bear.

Cut Out Coins

If you’re a coin collector you have likely ran across a few cut out coins at one point or another. Depending on your views, it can either be frustrating that the coin got ‘ruined’ or you might see it as an exciting and beautiful piece of art. Carving into, cutting up, clipping, and generally changing a coin has been done in several ways for centuries. With our modern technology this more precise type of cut out coin has definitely gained popularity.

s-l1600 (17)The cut coin is a dramatic and beautiful way to turn coins into jewelry and works of art. The background of the of the coin is typically cut away, leaving the stamped figure floating inside the outer rim of the coin. Even small, common coins can be made into pendants, earrings, or cuff links. While the technique is simple, it takes a lot of practice to perfect.

Two of the most popular ways to create these cut out coins is with a scroll saw or with a jeweler’s saw. The jeweler’s saw is a bit more traditional and is a delicate saw with an adjustable frame. Typically a carver will choose a coin with a well-defined, smooth-edged image, like a head or profile to start. Then, drill small holes in the background portion of the coin, using a drill bit and place the holes near the center of the area that is to be removed.

A carver would then insert the jeweler’s saw into one of the pre-drilled holes, using the saw to carve away the background material around the figure. And leaving the top edge of the figure attached to the rim. Lastly a coat of clear acrylic is applied to the coin to protect it and give it a luster. While seemingly simple this is an art that can take years to master and gets more difficult depending on the coin one wishes to cut out.

The second method, uses a scroll saw, a precise electric saw. While the method is very similar to the jeweler’s saw is takes a completely different practiced skill set. Just like before, the carver will start by drilling small holes into the coin. From there, the coin is smoothly moved along the pattern with the scroll saw. Once finished, the coin is dropped in a jar of acetone.

Every cut out coin takes hours of precision and dedication to the art of creating the cut out. If you’re interested in pursuing this art or owning a coin of your own — don’t worry it is not illegal! They do not violate any U.S. statute provided that the alteration to the coin is not done with fraudulent intent. Section 331 of Title 18 of the United States code provides criminal penalties for anyone who fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the Mints of the United States. This statute means that you may be violating the law if you change the appearance of the coin and fraudulently represent it to be other than the altered coin that it is.

While one can hope that carver’s won’t carve an incredibly rare coin or verity, bar those possibilities it is hard not to admit that cut out coins are beautiful works of art.

Kissi Pennies

In another example of strange currencies; the kissi penny also seen transcribed as kissy or kisi penny was an iron currency made in Sierra Leone that circulated widely in the immediate vicinity of its production among Gbandi (Bandi), Gola, Kissi, Kpelle, Loma, Mandinka and Mende and other people of Liberia and Sierra Leone and Guinea-Conakry. Portuguese records indicated that sailing voyages in the early sixteenth century carried iron bars. The currency began being manufactured in the specific form of the kissi penny around 1880.

Brooklyn_Museum_2006.67.24_Bundle_of_PenniesThe kissi penny is odd in shape, generally 8-12 inches long and very thin.  The kissi penny was a long twisted iron rod shaped like a “T” with a small disc fashioned on the opposite end. The pennies were not uniform and were often bundled together in what almost resembles a bundles of sticks.  

Europe and Asia often measured wealth in terms of gold and silver, pre-colonial Africa measured wealth in terms of iron.  In sub-Saharan Africa iron was a rare metal; Africa is known for very beautiful and elaborate gold working, it is a very easy metal to work with having a low melting point and high malleability.  Iron is much harder to work with and there was a lacking in technology to work with the iron. As a result iron was comparatively rare and only produced by highly skilled master metalworkers. This rarity gave iron a value comparative to silver in many other parts of the world.

The term ‘penny’ can be misleading because around the late 1800’s one hundred kissi pennies was enough to buy a cow, two hundred could purchase a virgin bride, and three hundred or more could buy a slave.

When Europeans colonized Africa in the 19th century the kissi penny continued as a form of currency, being used simultaneously with European paper money and gold or silver.  Despite being banned by the British and French in the 1930’s kissi pennies continued to be used up to the 1960’s until they were replaced with more convenient paper money.

While kissi pennies are no longer used as currency today, they are still occasionally usedGuinze-Monnaies-Musée_des_Confluences in religious rights and ceremonies. For example, as tokens of completing rituals in the Poro and Sande Societies; as bridewealth, and also to be placed on tombs and graves, where they were believed to channel the souls of the dead. At some point, the currency acquired spiritual aspects, perhaps because of its use in graves, and as a result, when a penny broke it was considered without value until a Zoe, or religious practitioner, repaired it in a special ceremony. It was this feature that led to it being called “money with a soul.”

European travelers regarded them as a curious form of primitive money, and as a result many were collected and deposited in museums. They continue to be sold on art and curio markets, as well as among numismatists to the present day.

Mills Currency

Pennies will buy you so little today that dividing them into even smaller change seems pointless. But back in 1786, the U.S. Continental Congress approved the mill; the “lowest


Missouri mill token

money of accompt, of which 1,000 shall be equal to the federal dollar.” While the Federal Government never actually produced a coin worth one-tenth of a cent, some states and local governments issued mills made of cheap materials such as tin, aluminum, plastic or paper. By the 1960s, the coins had depreciated so much in value that their production was virtually abandoned.


The Coinage Act of 1792 describes milles and other subdivisions of the dollar:

That the money of account of the United States shall be expressed in dollars or units, dismes or tenths, cents or hundredths, and milles or thousandths, a disme being the tenth part of a dollar, a cent the hundredth part of a dollar, a mille the thousandth part of a dollar, and that all accounts in the public offices and all proceedings in the courts of the United States shall be kept and had in conformity to this regulation.

The mint of Philadelphia made half cents worth 5 mills each from 1793 to 1857. Tokens in this denomination were issued by some states and local governments (and by some private interests) for uses such as payment of sales tax.

But just because mills don’t exist as coins doesn’t mean they don’t exist as units of currency. In most American locales, property taxes are calculated using mills. Counties assess the value of each property in their jurisdiction and apply a millage rate to calculate the amount of tax a landowner owes. For example, a county might assess a piece of property as being worth $250,000. If the tax rate is 5 mills, then the homeowner owes $1,250 in taxes ($250,000 x .005 = $1,250). Mills are also used in a couple other industries: electric power is usually measured internally in mills, and stock brokers often charge their clients in mills rather than percentages.

Outside property taxes, the average American sees the mills most often with gasoline prices. In every US state, gas prices have nine mills tacked on the end, so that gas might cost $3.109 per US gallon. Some say this pricing system came about thanks to a 1933 increase in the gas tax from 1¢ to 1.5¢ per gallon. Others say it’s just “charm pricing”, which is to offer an item for $1.99 instead of $2.00, because our brains process the former as being significantly cheaper than the latter. Still others believe a more likely story: that back when gasoline emerged as a consumer item in the early 1900s, it was sold in such small amounts and at such low prices that mills actually mattered.

But gas prices reveal something else about American culture: the universal dislike of mills. With the exception of property taxes, most every American will discuss small units of currency as fractions of a cent instead of mills. No one ever thinks of a gallon of gas costing $3.10 and 9 mills… it’s $3.10 and 9/10 of a cent. And this might be because of trading stamps.


Gold Bond trading stamps

For almost a century, retailers across the United States offered trading stamps with every purchase. You’d save the stamps and redeem them for things like clocks, toasters and lamps. You may even remember the “54-40 and Fight” episode of The Brady Bunch, in which the kids agree to pool their saved trading stamp books, but chaos breaks out when the boys want to use the stamps to get a “boy’s item” (a row boat) while the girls want to use them for a “girl’s item” (a sewing machine).

Of course, the stamps weren’t free. Companies like Sperry & Hutchinson charged retailers to join their programs, and charged for each roll of stamps the retailer ordered. And retailers, not surprisingly, passed these costs on to consumers as higher prices. In 1904, the state of New York passed a law requiring trading stamp companies to offer cash rebates in addition to housewares and sporting goods. Companies like S&H placed a value of one mill on each stamp, meaning that one could trade a book of 1,000 stamps for a dollar. Almost no one traded for the cash, because it was almost always a better deal to redeem stamps for goods instead.

Most states considered trading stamps and coupons (as in, “Save 50¢ on your next purchase of Tide Detergent”) to be the same thing legally. Three states – Indiana, Utah and Washington – required coupons to declare a cash value. Since it would be a big hassle to make coupons just for those states, companies that offered coupons started printing cash values on them nationally. And they universally used fractions of a cent instead of mills. If you look at any coupon in the US today you’ll see something like “CASH VALUE: 1/60¢” on it.

The mill is a now-abstract unit of currency but was once devised as a way to help citizens buy products in exact amounts. While using currency that is worth less than a penny seems ludicrous now, it used to be a commonplace practice.

Ancient Forms of Money

Before coins and paper notes many objects were tested out for the use of money. Some because of their rarity and others because they had a common use other than just as a piece of currency. From squirrel pelts to salt, here is a list of five ancient forms of money!


Plate of squirrel fur backs

Squirrel Pelts
During the Middle Ages, Russians had taken a liking to trading squirrel pelts, often using the claws and snouts for pocket change. This odd form of currency may have accidentally benefited the Russians in a non-economic way as well. During medieval times, Europe was ravaged by the infamous Black Plague, but Russia wasn’t hit nearly as hard. Since the plague was most often carried by rodents, killing a bunch of rodents and using their pelts as currency likely reduced the number of plague carriers. Interestingly, modern day Finland actually recognizes squirrel pelts as a currency, and values them at 3 cents each.


Tursiops_truncatus_01Dolphin Teeth
For hundreds of years on the Solomon Islands, dolphin teeth have been used as currency. The islands have a long history of hunting dolphins and the age-old practice came to a halt around the middle of the nineteenth century. However, as a result of the devaluation of the country’s dollar, some parts of the island have reverted back to the traditional use of dolphins teeth.



Naturally formed salt crystals

Salt’s ability to preserve food made it a precious and highly valued commodity during the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages. It was used as a method of trade and currency and historically, people would lick the salt block to make sure it was real and break pieces off to make change. Interestingly, the word salary stems from the Latin term ‘salarium’, which refers to salt money.




A brick of Hubei mǐ zhūan chá (米磚茶),

Tea Bricks
Tea Bricks are blocks of whole or finely ground black tea, green tea, or post-fermented tea leaves that have been packed in molds and pressed into block form. This was the most commonly produced and used form of tea in ancient China prior to the Ming Dynasty. Due to the high value of tea in many parts of Asia, tea bricks were used as a form of currency throughout China, Tibet, Mongolia, and Central Asia. Tea bricks were in fact the preferred form of currency over metallic coins for the nomads of Mongolia and Siberia. The tea could not only be used as money and eaten as food in times of hunger but also brewed as allegedly beneficial medicine for treating coughs and colds. Until World War II, tea bricks were still used as a form of edible currency in Siberia.


Shell money usually consisted either of whole sea shells or pieces of them, which were often worked into beads or were otherwise artificially shaped. The use of shells in trade began as direct commodity exchange, the shells having value as body ornamentation. The distinction between beads as commodities and beads as money has been the subject of debate among economic anthropologists.

Some form of shell money appears to have been found on almost every continent: America, Asia, Africa and Australia. The shell most widely used worldwide as currency was the shell of Cypraea moneta, the money cowry. This species is most abundant in the Indian Ocean, and was collected in the Maldive Islands, in Sri Lanka, along the Malabar coast, in Borneo and on other East Indian islands, and in various parts of the African coast from Ras Hafun to Mozambique. Cowry shell money was important at one time or another in the trade networks of Africa, South Asia, and East Asia.


Swedish Daler Plate Money

When we think of coins we typically think of fairly small circular slabs of various types of medal. Some are slightly larger than others, have ridges on the edges, or even have a hole in the middle; what we don’t imagine is a large ‘plate’ of copper that weighs 1.5kg and measures 18.5 x 20cm. The Swedish riksdaler plate, was first minted in 1624 and was the currency of Sweden for several years.

From 1624, daler were issued in copper as well as silver. Because of the low value of copper, large plate money (plåtmynt) was issued. These were rectangular pieces of copper weighing, in some cases, several kilograms. (The largest one is worth 10 daler and weighs almost 20 kilograms (44 lb)). They circulated until 1776. As silver became scarce, the silver daler rose in value relative to the copper daler, with the exchange rate between the two eventually being set at a ratio of 3 to 1.

Use of copper for plate coinage began during the reign of Gustav II Adolf (1611-1632). The copper mine in Falun (Dalarna county) produced about 2/3 of the worlds copper at the time and the use of copper coinage was an attempt to control the price of copper to the advantage of Sweden.


Mining Tools in the Falun Mine

There are no written accounts establishing exactly when mining operations at Falun Mine began. Archaeological and geological studies indicate, with considerable uncertainty, that mining operations started sometime around the year 1000. No significant activities had begun before 850, but the mine was definitely operating by 1080. Objects from the 10th century have been found containing copper from the mine. In the beginning, operations were of a small scale, with local farmers gathering ore, smelting it, and using the metal for household needs.

Around the time of Magnus III, king of Sweden from 1275 to 1290, a more professional operation began to take place. Nobles and foreign merchants from Lübeck had taken over from farmers. The merchants transported and sold the copper in Europe but also influenced the operations and developed the methods and technology used for mining. The first written document about the mine is from 1288; it records that, in exchange for an estate, the Bishop of Västerås acquired a 12.5% interest in the mine.

By the mid 14th century, the mine had grown into a vital national resource, and a large part of the revenues for the Swedish state in the coming centuries would be from the mine. The then king, Magnus IV, visited the area personally and drafted a charter for mining operations, ensuring the financial interest of the sovereign.

Sweden had a virtual monopoly on copper which it retained throughout the 17th century. The only other country with a comparable copper output was Japan, but European imports from Japan were insignificant. In 1690, Erik Odhelius, a prominent metallurgist, was dispatched by the King to survey the European metal market. Although copper production had already begun to decline by the time he made his report, something Odhelius made no secret of, he stated, “For the production of copper Sweden has always been like a mother, and although in many places within and without Europe some copper is extracted it counts for nothing next to the abundance of Swedish copper”.

By modern standards, however, the output was not large. Peak production barely reached 3,000 tonnes of copper per year, falling to less than 2,000 tonnes by 1665; from 1710–1720 it was barely 1,000 tonnes per year. Present worldwide copper production is 18.3 million tons per year


8 Daler Plate in the British Museum.

In 1643, the first plate money was issued in the denomination of 10 Daler SM. These plates were approximately 13 by 27 inches in size and weighed 43 pounds. Today, these first plates are rare and may only be found in museums. The Coinage Act of 1649 stipulated plates in denominations of 1, 2, 4 and 8 silver Dalers and after 1684 the denominations were 1/2, 1, 2 and 4 silver Dalers. Metal content also decreased over time such that 1 Daler SM weighed 3.5 pounds in 1660 and settled at 1.7 pounds in 1715. The last year plates were produced in large quantity was 1759 with some 2 Daler plates in 1760. There are also rare plates from 1768.

The plates have four corner stamps bearing the name or initials of the current monarch and the year of issue. The center stamp bears the denomination and the reverse is blank. Some plates have an additional stamp due to redenomination. Many plates show signs of the manufacturing process with hammer marks; the copper was formed into sheets of necessary thickness, cut to size with shears, and  then stamped. This was hand work using large tools and gives each plate a unique character.

It is hard for most people to imagine using such coins in commerce. Illustrations of the era depict citizens with sacks of copper plates over their back or pulling a load of plates to the bank on a sled. This inconvenience was the catalyst for the creation of the world’s first bank notes. In the 1660’s, a bank was formed where plates could be deposited in return for a paper certificate of value. This paper money was an instrument which could be exchanged in commerce and the value repaid to the bearer in copper at the bank. This led to the creation of the world’s first central bank, Sveriges Riksbank (The National Bank of Sweden).

Today, around 11,000 pieces of plate money are known to exist across all years and denominations. Approximately 3,000 of these were recovered from the wreck of the trading ship Nicobar, which was discovered and salvaged in the 1980’s off the coast of southern Africa. On July 23, 1782 the Nicobar left Sweden with a load of recently undenominated plates to be traded at Danish posts on the Indian coast and the Nicobar Islands, east of India. On the way to the Cape of Good Hope it was forced to replenish on the west coast of Africa at False Bay, on May 20, 1783. On July 10, shortly after leaving False Bay, it was wrecked in a storm. Two hundred years later, local fishermen found the wreck.

Being such a numismatic oddity, plates are desired by collectors with widely varying interests. Prices range from a few hundred dollars for smaller sea water damaged examples to several thousand dollars for scarcer 4 Daler plates in nice condition.