Wooden Nickels first made their debut in the 1930’s, mostly in the State of Washington, as a response to the need for currency during the Depression. When banks started failing, cities turned to other forms of currency to keep trade alive.
One thing that kept trade going, temporarily, in cities like Tenino and Blaine, Washington (see our previous blog), were wood nickels. Made from pressed wood, merchants entered into agreement with the city’s chamber of commerce and began accepting wooden nickels instead of paper money for goods.
In order for this idea to work, shoppers had to trust that all merchants would accept the wooden nickels they received from the city. Merchants had to trust that the city would take the wood nickels back in exchange for real money or gold. Overall, the idea was not completely successful. Most wooden nickels came with an expiration date, meaning you were out of luck if you had one past that date. It was also quite common for people, particularly visitors to the area, to simply keep them as souvenirs.
Once the immediate need had passed, wood was outlawed as currency. Banks, stores and other merchants still issued wooden nickels as souvenirs or for promotion, but they were essentially worthless beyond that. Out of this arrangement was born the phrase, “Don’t take any wooden Nickels.”
Commonly used as a warning, “Don’t take any wooden nickels” meant not to get taken advantage of. To be careful. For example, “Have a great trip, and don’t take any wooden nickels.” It was especially common to hear this phrase if you were heading into the city.
Today, we don’t really hear this phrase too often, except maybe from the mouths of our grandparents. Although people no longer try to slip a wooden nickel in with our change, the warning behind the words is just as important!