Civil War Tokens

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.

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Patriotic Civil War Token

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dry Goods Groceries Storecard

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.


Check out our collection of Civil War Tokens on our Ebay store.

Thanks for reading!

A History of Pressed Pennies

Since I was young I got excited anytime I’d see a penny pincher machine. Whether it was at the local zoo or while away on vacation, I’d be begging my parents for some extra change so I could take home my very own penny souvenir.

1893_Columbia_Exposition_pennyThe first recorded pressed pennies debuted as an innovative attraction at the 1893 World’s Fair. Also known at the time as the World’s Columbian Exposition, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in America. Although there are rumors of pressed coins being used as jewelry by a Viennese Jeweler dating back to 1818 in Vienna, Austria. The World’s Fair penny cost a nickel and a coin to be pressed and the coin would be pressed between two industrial-strength rollers by a press operator. Out would come a squished coin in an oval-shape. It bore a stamp that had been embossed by a mold on one of the rollers that read: “Columbian Exposition 1893.”

Since the 1893 World’s Fair pressed pennies have gained popularity across the globe. You can find penny pincher machines everywhere from California to Japan to of course- Austria. Numismatists themselves have created their own following around the pressed penny; labeling themselves as exonumists. The name comes from exonumia coins, coins that are an oddball that don’t fit into standard definitions of money. Other examples of exonumia is arcade tokens, transportation tokens, and wooden nickels.

Pressed pennies continued to be a popular attraction among fairs and exhibitions, often serving as tokens to show you were there and to remember the event by. Around the 1930’s the machines got picked up by many tourist attractions when the owners started to realize the value of providing their customers with a cheap and interactive souvenir. There was a huge rise in popularity in 1980 when the pressing machines were introduced to Disney Parks. The parks got covered in these machines, offering coins for your favorite rides, attractions, and characters.

1818Viennese Jeweler Used Pressed Pennies in Jewelry

In more recent years exonumists have emerged and turned pressed penny collecting into a large hobby among collectors and coin enthusiasts. Collectors prefer to collect and smash pre-1982 pennies because current coins are predominantly made of zinc which makes the pressed penny appear more dark or worn. Exonumists will plan penny-smashing road trips to a mapped out route of machines- spending hours planning and traveling to get that special penny.

If you’re looking to get into pressed penny collecting start like you would with any coin collection: find something that intrigues you. That could be collecting all the pennies from a specific State, or collecting ones from a specific designer/engraver. You can find lists of pressing machines from websites like PennyCollector.com or PressedPennies.com. Or just be on the lookout for a penny presser wherever you go– there is a high chance you will run into them during activities you’d already be doing. Like going to the local amusement park with your family, or visiting the beach. As long as you have a bit of change you are always ready to press your very own new penny!

Another thing one might worry about before becoming an exonumist is if it’s legal; there is a common thought that it is illegal to deface currency. Penny pressing is legal in the USA and UK, but not in Canada. The United States Codes under Title 18, Chapter 17, and Section 331, “prohibits the mutilation, diminution and falsification of United States coinage.” Although, the foregoing statute does not prohibit the mutilation of coins if done without fraudulent intent or if the mutilated coins are not used fraudulently. But in Canada it is stated in section 11(1) of the Currency Act states that “no person shall, except in accordance with a licence granted by the Minister [Minister of Finance], melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is current and legal tender in Canada.” Furthermore, Section 456 of the Criminal Code of Canada makes it a criminal offence to deface circulation coins: “Every one who: (a)defaces a current coin, or (b)utters a current coin that has been defaced, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.” So enjoy your penny pressing collecting — as long as you’re not in Canada! Or come visit us here in the States and collect some of our beautiful coins.


If there is a specific pressed penny you’ve always wanted then check out our ebay store for our collection of exonumia coins.

Thanks for Reading!

Trade Tokens and Forgotten History

 

 

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Have you ever looked at historical photos of your town and wondered what life was like back then? Photos are only part of the story of any town: trade tokens are an often overlooked part of local history in many places. Trade tokens from our town of Bellingham, Washington, also have a story to tell.

 

 

Tokens are technically exonumia: coin-like objects that are not truly coins. Tokens were usually locally produced, and intended for use in local businesses, which usually had their names stamped into the token itself.  (Until the federal government took over all bill printing, local banks also issued notes, as seen in this $20 note from the First National Bank of Bellingham.)

 

 

s-l1600 (2)Bellingham in the early 1900s was no different. Many downtown businesses had trade tokens, usually in the amount of 5 cents, produced and distributed to drive business. Local tobacconist J. M. Stinnett, described in a 1918 issue of the United States Tobacco Journal as a “live wire from that northern town,” was one of several tobacco and cigar store owners to issue such tokens. His store was at 114 West Holly St, where Opus Performing Arts is today.

 

 

In the latter half of the second decade of the 20th century, 5 cents had the equivalent worth of 87 cents today, though its buying power was higher. Many drugstores would sell ice cream cones or sodas for 5 cents, and it would make it worth a customer’s while to stop by a store she had a token for.

 

 

Though none of these old-time Bellingham businesses are still in operation, it’s easy to see how little the town has changed, in some ways. Many of the businesses listed were on Holly Street, still one of the main commercial parts of town. Bellingham still has a strong focus on local business as opposed to national chains, and tours of the historical downtown areas are a popular attraction.

 

 

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Coins and tokens hold onto a specific kind of history that might otherwise be lost. The establishments may be long gone, but as long as the tokens survive, places like the Blue Moon, the Gold Nugget, and the Alaska Tavern will live on.

 

 

This set of Bellingham trade tokens is currently for sale in our Etsy store, as is the banknote.

One Small Step: When the Moon Landing Changed the World

 

 

47 years ago today, 2 men set foot on the moon for the first time in human history. This event captured the attention of the entire world; it is estimated that 500 million people (about 14% of total world population in 1969) watched the moon landing coverage live on television; it was the largest audience for a live broadcast at the time.  It’s no surprise that an event of that magnitude has been commemorated on coins and stamps as well.

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As with many historic events, the space program was celebrated with commemorative tokens. These were struck for all the missions, from the initial Mercury project up through the Apollo program. NASA and its astronauts were national heroes, and many space-themed collectibles were created during the 1960’s.

 

 

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The Apollo 11 mission, naturally, received special focus. By the time of the Apollo missions, the United States had pulled ahead in the space race, after coming in second to the USSR in nearly every milestone until the Gemini 3 mission. For Gemini 3, Gus Grissom (who died in the Apollo 1 disaster) and John Young (who went on to several Apollo missions as well as the Shuttle program) demonstrated the ability to change the orbit of their craft. Each Gemini mission had a special focus in order to build the knowledge and experience that was needed to safely reach the moon. The Apollo program took the information from the Gemini missions and set forth a daring but achievable plan to reach the lunar surface.

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On January 27, 1967, a fire broke out in the Apollo 1 capsule during a routine test. The combination of an oxygen-rich environment and the design of the escape hatch resulted in the death of the Apollo 1 crew: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. NASA took time after the accident to reassess the module design and the cost of the space program. Flight Director Gene Kranz (most famous for his leadership during the Apollo 13 crisis) told the Mission Control team, “We were too ‘gung-ho’ about the schedule and we blocked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work.” New safety measures and procedures were put into place, and the Apollo missions continued. The Apollo 1 mission name was retired in honor of the lost astronauts, and Apollos 2 and 3 never flew. Apollo 4 lifted off in November of 1967, and the race for the moon continued.

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Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin

 

After successful trips around the moon with Apollos 8 and 10 (Apollo 9 was a test of all modules in low earth orbit), Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins were aboard; only Armstrong and Aldrin would land on the lunar surface, as Collins stayed behind with the spacecraft.

 

 

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On July 20, 1969, after a harrowing descent in which the “Eagle” lander ended up short on fuel and kilometers off course, Armstrong and Aldrin landed safely on the surface. Several hours later, the two astronauts descended onto the lunar surface, making history for their nation and for all of humanity.

 

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Apollo 11 mission emblem

Since the first moment when Armstrong’s boots touched the surface of the moon, the image of the first moon landing have become iconic. They have been featured in movies, videos, songs, and on everything from t-shirts to jewelry. The eagle and moon motif on the reverse of the Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony dollars was based on the emblem for Apollo 11, since NASA was established during Eisenhower’s administration (the design was re-used for the Anthony dollar, though she had no connection to the program.)

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On the 47th anniversary of the first moon landing, we remember the sacrifices made to further the cause of peaceful exploration and scientific inquiry, and look hopefully to the future.

Exonumia

When you begin to pursue coin collecting (numismatics), you may find a lot of terms and expressions that are new to you. One of the first you’re likely to see is “exonumia.” What is that?

Exonumia is a branch of numismatics that is worthy of its own study and pursuit; in short, exonumia refers to currency-like items that are not currency. These can include tokens, badges, pressed/elongated coins, medallions, wooden nickels, and more.

The word “exonumia” itself is as recent as 1960, when Token and Medal Society founding member Russell Rulau coined the term; Webster’s accepted it to their dictionary in 1965. Exactly what constitutes exonumia is often up for debate, as are the lines between exonumismatic branches (if a token bears an advertisement, is it a token or a promotional piece?)

The Token and Medal Society states that “Strictly defined, a token is any substitute for the money issued by governments. The most common form of token is a metal disc, similar to a coin, on which is inscribed the value and the issuer. In theory, tokens were redeemable only by the issuer, but some were accepted widely and often circulated just as coins. In practice, many other items, such as advertising pieces, are also called tokens as opposed to medals… A medal is an object made to commemorate some person or event. Medals have been made by governments, organizations, or individuals.”

While the items classified as exonumia are practically endless, there are a few major areas that will interest both serious collectors and those with a passing interest in historical curiosities.

 

Wooden money: 

Wood is rarely used as currency, since it has no intrinsic value, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. In the financial crisis of the 1930’s, factories shut down, banks closed their doors, and people held on to as much money as they could. The result? A drop in the amount of money circulating. Local bank closures meant disaster for business in rural or rugged areas, as a trip to a neighboring town was simply not feasible.

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Blaine, Washington, found itself in this very predicament. Local businessman Albert Balch had been promoting slicewood, a pressed wood product made locally. (One thing Washington state has in abundance: trees!) He realized that this could also be used for printing emergency money, and the idea caught on. The Chamber of Commerce in nearby Tenino backed the money with non-interest bearing warrants, creating legitimate currency. Merchants could redeem these pieces for US currency or gold. The town of Blaine also adopted the idea, cutting pressed wood into circles to make wooden nickels. These “coins” featured an image of the Peace Arch Monument, and made Blaine nationally known.

After the Depression ended, wood was outlawed as currency, but wooden nickels remained popular as tokens for promotions, advertising, and souvenirs.

Pressed or elongated coins: 

Coin-pressing machines can be found at almost any national park or other attraction. For the cost of a dollar or two and a sacrificial penny, you can watch the machine press your coin into a long oval, printed with an image to remind you of your destination.

While many pennies get lost quickly, quite a few are the subject of serious collectors. Disney parks are known for their collectible penny designs, with aficionados scrambling to get every design available at every park.

1893_Columbia_Exposition_pennyThe oldest method of elongating coins is both dangerous and unreliable: just stick the penny on a railroad track and hope the passing train squashes it properly (note: this is DANGEROUS and should not be done, for the safety of all.) The first modern penny press machine debuted at the World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893. These coins proved immensely popular, and spread across the country as travelers brought them back from the fair. Some can still be found today.

 

Hobo Nickels

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“Buffalo nickels” by Danthomas – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buffalo_nickles.jpg#/media/File:Buffalo_nickles.jpg

The Buffalo Nickel that was in circulation from 1913 to 1938 sparked a surprising art form: the hobo nickel. The Buffalo Nickel was thicker than other coins, and the head on the obverse was larger, allowing for the creation of fine details.

During the 1930’s, thousands of unemployed men traveled to find what work they could; commonly referred to as “hobos,” these men took available work (usually manual labor), and created these coins as a means of artistic expression, as well as to trade for necessities. Since these men were on the road, without means of proper tools for metalworking, each altered coin could take up to 100 hours for a finished piece. The variety of artists, combined with the wide range of rough tools used, resulted in coins that are completely unique: no two hobo nickels look alike.

Encased Stamps

us-encased_postage-0-01Have you ever wondered how many stamps you have lying around your house, and how much value might be caught up in them? This proved to come in handy during a time of financial crisis!

In 1862, America faced an intense shortage of coins. The government eased the situation temporarily by declaring that postage stamps could be used to pay off debts to the government, providing the debt was less than $5. This proved to be more difficult than initially anticipated, due to the fragile nature of stamps. A businessman named John Gault came up with an ingenious solution: Gault created metal cases for the stamps to protect them from damage while they served as currency.

Gault’s encased stamps were only circulated for a about a year, until the government issued fractional currency. The use of stamps as currency also created a shortage of stamps! The encased stamp didn’t last long in its original usage, but they make excellent exonumismatic collector’s pieces. Very few are still in existence, as most cases were opened to remove the stamp as soon as the crisis had passed.

Read more! For more interesting stories of exonumia and collector’s items, see our blog series!