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Q David Bowers Lists His Favorite Coins

The Favorite Coins of Q. David Bowers

By Q. David Bowers, Co-Founder

Author: Q. David Bowers / Thursday, July 18, 2019 / Categories: From the Desk of Q. David Bowers

Some of my Favorite Coins

From the 18th century onward, countless coins were counterstamped with advertisements and messages. I have enjoyed collecting, studying, and writing about them. In recent times I have consigned quite a few to Stack’s Bowers Galleries auctions, where they have drawn nice bids. Counterstamps are hardly in the front line of interest headline-wise as they are relatively inexpensive—often valued at less than $100 and not often for more than, say, $500.  Among my favorite counterstamps is one that usually sells for $150 to $250 or so and is described below:

According to many contemporary references the VOTE THE LAND FREE counterstamp was applied in 1848 by advocates of the Free Soil Party, who advocated free soil; that is, the admission of new states to the Union under the proviso that all should be free, and no slavery would be allowed. If you search on the Internet you will find this “fact” in many places.

However, in researching this there seemed to be a few technical flaws in this nice scenario. In over 50 years of searching, I have never been able to match the VOTE THE LAND FREE words with any specific slogan used by the Free Soil Party, although the sentiment is correct. Also, in studying the availability of coins with this counterstamp, I have never personally seen any piece dated after 1844. Per contra, the 1987 text on counterstamps by Dr. Gregory Brunk and the more recent Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900, by Russell Rulau, each listed a few stray pieces dated from 1845 to 1848. Seeking to learn more, I wrote to both authors in April 2001, only to learn that neither had ever seen a post-1844 coin nor a photograph of one, but simply took the information from earlier listings. (By the time the words you are now reading were edited, the earlier Brunk and Rulau citations were withdrawn by those authors—but this is ahead of the story.)

Soon, the investigation took a roundabout turn: A particular cent in my collection bears the date 1844 and the neatly applied counterstamp in two curved lines, LAND / LIMITATION. In reviewing this piece I was struck by the similarity to VOTE THE LAND / FREE. Both seemed to be political in a way, and both specifically included the word LAND.

After some searching in old texts and also on the Internet, I learned that Land Limitation was one of the tenets of the National Reform Association (NRA), a group initiated by George Henry Evans from the membership of the Locofocos, National Trades Union, and the Workingmen’s Party.

On March 13, 1844, a meeting of working people, under the name of National Reform Party, of the NRA, was held in New York City at Chatham and Mulberry streets. A committee was appointed to investigate “a depression of labor, and a social degradation of the laborer.” The committee filed a report which was accepted at the next meeting.

The National Reform Association resolved to use the “land question” as the prime element in its political statements, and laid out three objectives: 1. Homestead legislation by the federal government to allow workers and others to acquire public lands free of charge. 2. Legislation to be enacted by various states to exempt land such as farms from seizure in debt collection. 3. Land limitation (precise wording) to restrict the ownership of large amounts of land by wealthy individuals and other entities, so that land would become more easily available to the general population.

On October 30, 1845, the NRA had a public meeting at 159 Madison Street, New York City. Among the items on the front stage was a large flag with VOTE THE LAND FREE and DADDY, VOTE ME A FARM lettered on the white stripes. Among the other events of 1845 the NRA joined with advocates of the Fourierist movement to schedule the first of a series on annual National Industrial Congresses.

I thus concluded that my 1844 cent stamped LAND / LIMITATION was likely to have been marked by National Reform Association advocates in the year indicated. Similarly, VOTE THE LAND FREE seems to have been the motto of the National Reform Association and had nothing to do with the Free Soil Party.

Perhaps NEXT TIME I will write about a coin that will, indeed, make headlines—like the beautiful and rare 1894-S dime scheduled to cross the block in a few weeks in our Rarities Night sale at the World’s Fair of Money convention in Rosemont, Illinois.

In the meantime, enjoy the summer.

Tags: Bowers