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.

Chicken Soup….more than just good for your soul!

As the leaves begin to change color and the temperature grows colder, families all around the world turn to soup.  Its warm, its comforting, its hearty, but did you know it also helps keep you well?  Who doesn’t remember cuddling up with a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup while fighting off the cold or flu?  It turns out, there is real science behind this theory.

The combination of chicken and broth dates back to the ancient Greeks.   This combination of foods was used to cure basically any ailment they came across.

The idea of noodles and broth comes from Asia in the 1200’s.  It made its way to Europe by the 1700’s.  Physicians in Italy used noodle soup to help cure sick patients because it was easy to digest.

Photo credit: AdenosinaNews.Wordpress.com

Photo credit: AdenosinaNews.Wordpress.com

Noodle soups didn’t become an important part of the American diet until the early 1900’s.  Finally, in 1934 someone had the brilliant idea to combine chicken, broth and noodles and viola! “Noodle with Chicken Soup.” was created by none other than the Campbell’s soup company.  A radio DJ, trying to promote the product, accidentally called it “Chicken Noodle Soup”  and it soon began finding its way into cupboards around the country.


Just like the ancient Greeks, Americans ate soup when they were feeling poorly This led scientists to question whether or not there was any validity to this theory, that soup has healing properties, or if it was just a marketing strategy.

In 2000, scientists at the University of Nebraska discovered some interesting things about Chicken Noodle Soup. They found that some components of the chicken noodle soup  have an anti-inflammatory effect that could lead to temporary relief of illness.  It has also been shown that chicken soup contains a certain amino acid that mimics a type of medicine used by doctors for patients with bronchitis and other respiratory infections.

These findings seem to suggest that eating soup when sick might be a very good idea indeed!


Various forms of Chicken Soup exist all over the world.  Consider the following variations:

China: Chicken and broth is seasoned with ginger, scallions, black pepper, soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil.

France:  Chicken soup that includes: bay leaves, fresh thyme, dry white wine and garlic.

India: In India chicken soup is commonly found as an appetizer and it comes in many forms.. Sweet Corn Chicken soup is the most popular, but other variants such as Clear Chicken Soup, Hot and Sour, and Spicy Indian Chicken Soup exist. Most of the Chicken soups are served with Bread Crumbs and boiled eggs. It is very common to see vendors selling soup along the street, particularly in the winter.

Mexico:  Here chicken soup is made with whole chicken pieces instead of chopped or shredded chicken, and large cuts of vegetables, such as half-slices of potatoes and whole leaves of cabbage. Another variation of chicken soup is garnished with chopped avocado, white cheese, and a chipotle chili.

Regardless of your preferred ingredients, it is safe to say Chicken Noodle soup is well loved around the world.  There is no better feeling than curling up under a blanket with a steaming bowl, and it may even cure your cold!  What are you favorite things to put in chicken noodle soup?  Comment below!

How Do Halftones Work?

If you look closely at old advertisements from vintage magazines, you will notice something interesting: the image is comprised of tiny dots of different colors. The tiny dots trick the eye into seeing varying tones of colors when really there are only limited colors of dots. For instance, cyan dots on top of yellow dots create the illusion of the color green.

This is not pointillism we’re talking about. The dots are much too fine for that. But before widespread use of computers, the artist involved could not possibly have sat down and dotted each and every dot to make the image; that’s simply impossible. So how, exactly, were halftones created?

It all comes down to a photography technique. The invention of photography led to many different printing techniques, but it took artists a while to figure out the most efficient techniques. At first, artists tried copying photos in pen and ink or through woodcutting, but as you can guess, this was a time-heavy project.


Soon, photographers and artists discovered better methods. In the 1830’s, William Fox Talbot thought up a technique using gauze; he suggested projecting the photo through a screen. Doing so created a pattern of dots that could be photoengraved onto a printing plate. Perfecting the process took trial and error and the breaking of some expensive glass screens, but it was worth it to reach the half toning effect.

Of course, once digital methods took over, the traditional method of half toning was no longer needed. Digital imaging made image processing much, much easier.

Next time you see genuine vintage advertisements, take a closer look at their colors. If they were made with half toning, you will see small dots – sometimes perfectly round, sometimes not – that create the bigger picture through small details.



Graphic Design


The Best Sewing Machine Cards from the 19th Century

Back when sewing was a way of domestic life for any woman with a family, sewing machines were a huge deal. The charismatic Isaac Singer sold the idea of sewing machines to women in the mid-19th century, and soon they became household staples.

Trade cards were the name of the game in the same century. They functioned as business cards, but people liked to trade them much like we trade baseball cards today. And sewing machines came with their own handy trading cards.

The art on such cards often surpasses any detail found on business cards today. (This isn’t the only time we’ve written about trading cards – see here for an article on 19th century pinup girl cards.) The cards had nice enough illustrations that they were kept and valued as art or scrapbook material. Business owners loved this, of course; along with art, the cards featured the name and information of the company. In the 1880’s and ’90’s, the availability of four-color lithography made cards especially popular for their added color and design.

Like many trade cards from that century, the illustrations look dated today. They feature scenes where the sewing machine sits in the center of the family, claiming a center spot in the parlor.

Here are some of the prettiest or just downright weirdest sewing machine cards that emerged from the 19th century:

The Tea Party sewing machine card vintage

“The Tea Party”

Vintage sewing card with a baby riding a sewing machine butterfly

Who knows what’s going on in this one? Not me.

Vintage sewing machine card showing kids playing around a sewing machine

Surely playing around the sewing machine is the time of their lives for some kids.

Vintage Portugal sewing machine trading card.


Sewing machine vintage advertising card

It’s the newfangled sewing machine bicycle!

Which card is your favorite?

Diamonds Weren’t Always Forever

Diamonds are forever. Therefore, diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

After all, when I get the mean reds the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and have breakfast at Tiffany’s.

In only the past century, diamonds have become synonymous with love and commitment. Before that, many other gems were used to “insure” that marriage was in the wearer’s future. However, they were not expected as a part of every engagement.

A pendant with a lovely diamond, perfect for marriage-insurance purposes.

A pendant with a lovely diamond perfect for marriage-insurance purposes.

How did diamonds take over so recently, and why did engagement rings go from promises of insurance to an expected tradition?

Engagement rings served as a placeholder until wedding rings were to be worn. The use of betrothal rings was adopted from the Romans by the Catholic Church in the 13th century, and two hundred years later, the first documented diamond engagement ring was presented to Mary of Burgundy. The Victorians gave each other “regards” rings with the recipient’s birthstone. It was a practice and status symbol of the upper classes who could afford two rings.


A cartoon illustrating the Breach of Promise.

In the States, “Breach of Promise to Marry” laws allowed women to sue men for breaking off their engagement. If the relationship had involved premarital sex (and roughly half of them in the early twentieth century did), then the woman’s reputation was at stake. Since virginity was a huge factor in a woman’s overall marriageability in society’s eyes, a broken engagement had the potential to ruin the rest of her life.

Starting in the 1930s, a number of states began taking the Breach of Promise out of the books. Almost immediately, diamond sales began gaining ground. Since many women could no longer sue for their reputations back, they needed insurance instead.

(via 1791 Rings, Creative Commons)

(via 1791 Rings, Creative Commons)

This insurance came in the form of a small, sparkly piece of jewelry with brilliant marketing.

Frances Gerety coined the phrase “A diamond is forever” in 1947. As a copywriter working for De Beers, the company that controlled the world’s supply of rough diamonds, she and publicity counterpart Dorothy Dignam spearheaded the campaign that put diamonds in demand. The company’s goal was “to create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage (felt) compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring.” While Gerety created wordy, sentimental copy outlining the diamond’s importance, Dignam wrote letters to newspapers describing the diamonds the Hollywood elite wore.

In one of Gerety’s advertisements, she writes that diamonds have “earth-born firelight.”

This chart shows diamond imports per year - notice the huge spike right before 1950.

This chart shows diamond imports per year – notice the huge spike right before 1950.

The average consumer began to see diamonds everywhere, from movies to the news to advertisements in magazines. Soon, engagement rings did not only serve as a placeholder or insurance. They became a status symbol with deeply sentimental value.

Today, 75% of American brides receive diamond engagement rings. Although it is no longer seen as “virginity insurance,” many couples do not consider themselves truly engaged unless a diamond ring has changed hands. Gerety and Dignam did their jobs by not only putting diamonds on the map, but making them the norm.

…If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it.

The Secret of 19th Century Cigarette Companies: Pin-Up Girls

In the 1800s, cigarette companies figured out the surefire way to pull in customers: providing racy pin-up girl cards for every cigarette coupon they traded in.


I always wear frilly skirts and heels when I play racquetball.

A 1954 LIFE Magazine article explains the 19th century craze. The article series “Speaking of Pictures” used to run in LIFE Magazine and featured exciting images with short explanations about their historical context.

The article series always used a two-page spread , knowing that large images would pull in readers. Yes, even before the lolcats and gifs of the internet, publishers knew that big images and few words grab readers’ attention.


Sporting Girls Pinup: Swimmer

In the July 26th, 1954 twenty-cent edition, LIFE delved into the world of collector items by presenting an article called “Speaking of Pictures…Cigaret cards were 1880’s pin-ups.”

The image features a young girl in a sailor shirt, surrounded by sporting supplies. The text below reads (using the older spelling of “cigarette”):

“In the late 1880s the racy gallery shown here was a national favorite. The American pastime was saving cigaret coupons and exchanging them for gaudy picture cards put out by tobacco companies. Today, all but forgotten, this album is a collectors’ item. It is reproduced from copy owned by Charles Lowenson, a New Yorker who has been collecting cigaret cards for 68 of his 78 years. Titled Sporting Girls, the gallery is also a quaint reminder of an era when cheesecake was more decorative than daring.”


Just look at that bustle.

Cigarette ads saturated the advertising market in the early- and mid-1800s, so the ads had to work to stand out. The pin-up cards did just that.

To understand the reasoning behind a pin-up series of cards, you just need to look at the smoker consumer base before the 1950s:

A collection of five of these cards recently sold in auction for $565

If you told a person from the 1950s that cigarettes could kill, they would probably laugh in your face.

Only one thing held back the consumer base, which was gender. In America at this time, only men could smoke in proper company, and it was seen as unladylike for a woman to smoke.

It wasn’t until the 1950s, with the help of a man named Edward Bernays, that the combination of the Women’s Movement and advertising bridged the consumer gap by promoting the freedom and independence of smoking for women.


Sporting Girls Pin Ups: Fencing

This gives some insight as to why cigarette cards featured these lovely ladies. Smoking was still largely a man’s activity, and especially in the 1880s, there would have been less than one percent of women smokers.

As a result, cigarette companies had to work hard to figure out how to make less than half its citizens smoke as much as possible, and by putting coupons in every smoke pack, they ensured that men would trade them in for provocative images. After all, the motto “sex sells” still applied back in the day.