When I bid on or buy and item for my collection, the “because I
like it” phrase is my main motivation. Value is not at all important.
High grade is of course desirable, but only if priced within reason.
Most of my acquisitions have been inexpensive.
The way I enjoy my collection is to scan each item on my Epson
Perfection V500 Photo scanner, put it in a safe deposit box, and then
view it on my computer.
I do, however, have some expensive items. One favorite is a
28.5-millimeter copper token issued by Beck’s Public Baths. In 2008
when Katie Jaeger and I wrote The 100 Greatest American Medals and
Tokens, those who participated in the election-survey placed this in
the No. 86 position.
Today in America, most of us take baths daily or at least
regularly. It was not always so. Across the country, some colleges and
boarding schools made it an offense to bathe in the colder months, the
practice being deemed unhealthy. In the early 19th century, most
houses did not have indoor plumbing, or if they did, as in some of the
larger cities, hot running water was not available. For those who
wanted to keep clean, the public bath was the way to do it. These
remained popular in some areas into the early 20th century.
In Richmond, Va., in the early 1830s, Charles Beck opened Beck’s
Public Baths. The facility remained in operation for nearly two
decades. To promote his business he contacted James Bale, New York
City diesinker, and commissioned a token depicting on one side a
Raphaelesque nude woman bathing and on the other his advertisement.
Probably, thousands were issued, based on an estimated 150 to 200
surviving today. Most show signs of wear. An About Uncirculated token
would be exceptional and one in Mint State especially so.
In 1858, numismatist Charles I. Bushnell published An
Arrangement of Tradesmen’s Cards, Political Tokens, also
Election Medals, Medalets, &c. Current in the United States
of America for the Last Sixty Years, Described from the
Originals, Chiefly in the Collection of the Author. This pioneering
work engendered an interest in collecting such pieces.
A Dec. 1, 1859, letter from Philadelphia collector J. Ledyard
Hodge, to R. Alonzo Brock, a Richmond numismatist, included this: “Can
you procure any more of the card you sent me, ‘Beck’s Public Baths’? I
will take any you can get with pleasure, as I have three or four
friends here who want them.”
They have been popular ever since!
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, email@example.com,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.