I set up a display of some satirical Hard Times tokens at the PNNA show in October. I liked doing the research about the meanings of all the symbols and text on the tokens. Got third place at the show.
This encased postage stamp token was used during the American Civil War. American entrepreneur John Gault created these tokens and sold them for $0.02 each over the price of the postage stamp, with the buyer’s advertisement on the reverse. During the war, the federal government printed paper currency to help finance the war effort. People did not trust the printed currency and hoarded coinage, including copper cents. This produced a shortage of copper coinage for day-to-day transactions.
People started using postage stamps for small transactions, but the stamps did not withstand the rigors of daily commerce. Gault designed these tokens with mica covering the stamp to protect them for regular trade. Perhaps as many 750,000 pieces were made and sold, but only around 5,000 survive today.
During the US Civil War, the country did not have enough federal coinage to circulate freely. With the fears of the war, Americans hoarded their coins, leaving fewer coins for day-to-day trade.
To combat the shortages, private companies and individuals minted their own tokens to circulate like coins. The tokens were about the same size and weight as the US one cent.
Some of these tokens portrayed patriotic themes, while others displayed advertisements for the merchants who produced them. The tokens traded freely alongside federal coins.
This token from 1863 is in average circulated condition. It shows signs of pitting on the obverse. It features the head of Lady Liberty and “Army & Navy” on the reverse. It is a common piece.
Tokens are not coins. Coins are issued by the federal government. Tokens are privately minted. I’ll confuse the two terms here and often use the word coins to refer to both.
Tokens sometimes traded like currency and coins, especially when federal coinage was scarce or being hoarded. This was the case during the “hard times” of the 1830s and the early period of the Civil War. I am primary interested in the satirical and political tokens of the Hard Times era and the patriotic tokens of the Civil War.