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Civil War Tokens In The Spotlight

Written by Q. David Bowers, Chairman Emeritus

Author: Stack's Bowers Galleries / Thursday, April 04, 2013 / Categories: From the Desk of Q. David Bowers
I have been interested in Civil War tokens for a long time. My fascination with them dates back to the 1950s when I first learned about them and set about buying examples. I soon met Dr. George Fuld, who at the time was with MIT in Massachusetts. From George I bought several thousand duplicates, a trading stock, most of which were soon offered for sale by Empire Coin Company, which I conducted in partnership with Jim Ruddy.

Fast forward to more recent times, today the Civil War Token Society (check the Internet) publishes the Civil War Token Journal with advertisements, historical articles, research findings and more. Believe it or not the annual membership fee is just $15, for which you get four copies of the journal.

Scheduled for release in mid summer is the Guide Book of Civil War Tokens, to be published by Whitman. I researched and wrote this, completing it last year. This will describe hundreds of different token issuers and illustrate different dies.

Today in 2013, Civil War tokens offer many interesting opportunities. Great rarities -- tokens for which fewer than a dozen are known -- can be purchased for a few hundred dollars each, sometimes even less! Compared to federal coinage, the field is relatively undiscovered. The number of active participants is probably in the low thousands.

Concerning Civil War tokens in general, these were mostly the size of contemporary one-cent pieces. Beginning in July 1862, when the outcome of the Civil War was uncertain, cents disappeared from circulation. Citizens preferred hard money to paper, and by that time gold and silver had long since been absent from commerce. Now, there was no federal money with which to buy a newspaper, get a haircut, or ride a horse-drawn streetcar. Stepping into the void were private individuals who commissioned cent-sized tokens to be struck, usually in copper, but sometimes in brass. Millions of these were soon in circulation and were widely used. Over 1,000 merchants issued them with their advertising and other inscriptions. In addition, large numbers of patriotic tokens were produced -- with flags, cannon, ships and other motifs.

Investigate Civil War tokens. You will find many opportunities.