Some of my Favorite Coins
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:
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citations were withdrawn by those authors—but this is ahead of the story.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
In the meantime, enjoy the summer.