In the Sept. 29 issue of Coin World, I told of the thousands
of varieties of copper tokens, fractional currency notes, Confederate
notes, encased postage stamps, bills of state-chartered banks, and
more issued during the Civil War.
Over the next few columns, I will explore these. Countless
opportunities await to acquire rarities for nominal prices. I know of
no reference book at all on one series with thousands of varieties:
paper scrip notes issued by banks, merchants, and others, with
denominations from 1 cent to 50 cents. Other series are more compact
and well-studied. I am thinking of encased postage stamps issued by
slightly more than 30 merchants and others. In any Civil War
specialty, you will encounter common issues as well as rarities.
As you read these words, John Ostendorf of the Civil War Token
Society is nearing completion of the third edition (vastly revised
since the second edition of 1975) of U.S. Civil War Store
Cards, by George and Melvin Fuld. Each variety has a Fuld number.
The revised book, more than 700 pages in length, large size, will
describe more than 10,000 varieties! This does not include the other
section of Civil War tokens — the patriotic issues. Susan Trask is
soon to start preparing a new edition of that book.
Collecting Civil War tokens is a fascinating pursuit. I’ve loved the
series ever since becoming acquainted with the pieces in the 1960s.
Today, in 2014, thousands of different tokens can be collected in
grades from Very Fine to About Uncirculated for $20 to $50, and some
Mint State tokens in the $100 range. Among rare varieties, some with
fewer than a dozen known can be bought in Mint State for less than $500.
Among store cards produced for merchants, railroads, steamship
lines, breweries, medical doctors, and others, there are slightly more
than 1,000 issuers. I’d guess that 700 of these fall into the readily
available category with regard to examples in high circulated grades.
Rarer tokens nearly always sell for more than common ones, exceptions
being tokens having a popular design or motif — such as the one issued
by Joseph H. Merriam showing a dog’s head and the value expressed
punningly as GOOD FOR A SCENT.
Many collectors endeavor to acquire one token from each town or city
in which they were issued. “Rare towns” can have great value. Only
three tokens, each of a different variety, exist from the Elmwood
Vineyard, Cranston, R.I.
Mine, one of the three, unique as a variety, cost me $17,466, the
most I have ever paid for any Civil War token, which is probably less
than 1/100th of the price that a federal coin of comparable rarity
would bring. Other rare towns with store cards priced from several
thousand dollars up are Alton, Ill.; Oldenburg, Ind.; Cassopolis,
Mich.; St. Joseph, Mo.; Ripley, Ohio; Genesee Station, Wis.;
Oconomowoc, Wisc.; and Snow Hill, W. Va. — by no means a complete list.
The field of patriotic Civil War tokens is smaller, but still runs
in to the thousands of pieces. The vast majority are quite
inexpensive, and a budget allowing up to $100 per token will result in
a very extensive collection, many costing only $20 to $30.
While it is difficult to find hidden rarity or value in most federal
series, as they are carefully studied, ample other opportunities
exist, including tokens. Many super rarities have been found in
dealers’ “junk boxes,” as the seller had no clue what he had.
If this piques your interest, sign up for membership in the Civil
War Token Society. The cost is $18 per year, for which you will get
four copies of the Civil War Token Society Journal, edited by
Susan Trask and with news and contributions from many members. It is
one of my favorite publications. If you sign up via CWTsociety.com in
the month of October and say, “I saw it in Dave’s Coin World column,”
your cost will be just $13, and the CWTS will bill me $5 for my part.
With no incentive other than to share my interest, I have set aside
$1,000 for this purpose. Go for it!