Among exonumists, the name Scovill looms large. With roots firmly
planted in the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, Scovill has produced
thousands of different tokens, coins and medals in the past two
centuries. As the preeminent manufacturer of tokens and store cards in
19th century America, the history of financial crisis, political
campaigning and business advertising is writ in large measure in the
metallic output of this Waterbury, Conn., firm.
The company traces its antecedent to 1802, when Abel Porter began
making pewter buttons, moving to Waterbury from Southington, Conn. In
September 1811, James Mitchell Lamson Scovill partnered with Frederick
Leavenworth to purchase Porter’s gilt button business.
Lamson’s younger brother, William Henry Scovill, purchased half
interest in the firm in April 1827, establishing the firm of J.M.L.
and W.H. Scovill. Lamson headed up marketing and finance. W.H. took
over manufacturing. Almost immediately the company accepted its first
store card order in 1828. Shortly thereafter Scovill issued a store
card for its own business.
During the Hard Times Period, Scovill was a virtual mint of issue
pouring out millions of large cent sized money substitutes. According
to the company’s own records, coinage operations commenced in 1834.
Soon thereafter the firm issued its famous bronze store card, shown
here, Low 130 (Hard Times Tokens by Lyman H. Low).
It depicts a phoenix rising from flames, the names of its founders
and date on its obverse. The reverse reads GILT BUTTONS OF EVERY
DESCRIPTION / SHEET BRASS / PLATED METAL / & / GOLD PLATE.
The phoenix rising from flames image was emblematic of the firm’s
rapid recovery after its disastrous fire of 1830.
Scovill also used this Phoenix Rising design on anonymous coppers
selling for approximately 60 cents per hundred.
Other common Scovill-made token designs during the Hard Times
period include Liberty Heads, Bentonian Mint Drops, Merchants
Exchange, Specie Payments Suspended, Van Buren Metallic Currency,
Webster Credit Currency and Millions for Defense Not One Cent for
Scovill likewise struck merchant store cards for a diverse cross
section of issuers. Examination of the Low-listed pieces indicates
that probably one-fourth of the types were produced by Scovill, and
since many of these are among the most common varieties, the total
produced must have been enormous. Evidence shows that production of
the NOT ONE CENT tokens, alone, had exceeded 3 million pieces.
Fred L. Reed III has been a collector and writer for many years.
Reach him at www.fredwritesright.com.