Looking Through the Numismatic Glass

David Bowers, of PCGS, wrote a column “The Joy of Collecting,” published in Coin World on April 2, 2012. In it he said, “The year 2012 marks the sesquicentennial of the greatest monetary disruption in American History.”

While the North and South were forced into the most dangerous dispute the nation has ever seen, a variety of coins, currency, tokens and also postage stamps were employed to carry on the commerce. The second part of this article talks about the tokens that were struck by a variety of sources to allow daily transactions possible.

Plantations and agriculture in the Southern states produced a large amount of cotton and lacked the production of raw materials such as steel and machinery. However, the Northern states made up for lack of machinery and steel production in the South.

Civil War tokens were initially struck in 1862 in Cincinnati, Ohio to use as private emergency money because of the uncertainty on the outcome of the war. Most people especially those from the South believed that the dispute would be a “stand off” and would result in the independence of the Southern states. However, the newly elected President Abraham Lincoln did not agree with this and wanted both the North and the South to be one Nation and not separate and different Nations.

Tokens from the Civil War

Beginning in July 1862 and on into 1863 many small copper tokens, comparable in size and weight to the US Indian head cents, began emerging. These tokens were struck in considerably large numbers and usually accepted by merchants.

Three types of these tokens were struck and brought into the business of the merchants. One of these tokens was called the “patriotic pieces” that were brought into New York for circulation. There were patriotic slogans attached to these tokens but no advertising.

The second type of tokens was tradesmen issues and these tokens were struck in large quantities. Merchants purchased these coins at a discount, 25 for one dollar. There were 25 million tokens struck that carried the advertising of the merchants. Several of the tokens carried political or patriotic slogans that came from the beliefs of the one who created them. Other tokens displayed military leaders or Presidents like General McClellan and Abraham Lincoln. These tokens were issued in 23 states and nearly 300 cities. Over eight thousand types of tokens are recognized and listed by Hetrich and Guttag in 1924 (a book difficult to locate these days).

The third kind of token was used by merchants as they moved around with army units carrying out transactions with them. These merchants were known as “sutlers,” and their tokens were among the rarest and typically carried the name of a certain army unit.

Tokens from the Civil War were minted in silver, bronze, tin, copper, nickel, German silver and white metal. The US Mint was able to produce enough coinage for the demanding population by the summer of 1864. Sadly, the majority of the tokens mentioned in this article were apart of circulation up until they vanished through attrition. On June 8, 1964 legislation passed that band all privately owned coinage.

Several people today collect Civil War tokens. There are numerous types of tokens that could keep a collector busy as well as several published reference books. Nowadays the most readily available old coins are Morgan Silver Dollars, Liberty Head, Saint Gaudens and Indian Head gold coins.