Union Coffee Limited of New York City was a prolific 19th century
advertiser, and today sales sites such as eBay frequently have sales
of items representing the brand. I recently was fortunate to acquire
four of the company’s hard rubber (vulcanite) political tokens, 40
millimeters in diameter, with portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S.
Grant and Grover Cleveland (two visages).
Although the pieces are sometimes referred to as medals, the
expert on such pieces, David Schenkman, calls them tokens in his
publications, such as his seminal TAMS Journal article, “An
Introduction to Hard Rubber Tokens.”
Union Coffee’s advertising tokens (also sometimes called store
cards) are known in both white metal and hard rubber.
Russ Rulau cataloged the Union Coffee 40-millimeter white metal
pieces as NY-NY 340 to NY-NY 344 in his Standard Catalog of United
States Tokens, 1700-1900. He does not catalog the hard rubber
varieties, which are also 40 millimeters, and weigh 11.55 grams,
according to the American Numismatic Society.
Effigies of U.S. presidents were employed on these hard rubber
tokens. These included Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Jackson,
Monroe, Lincoln, Grant, Garfield and Cleveland. Rulau mentions them in
his catalog, but does not list them. He ascribes this series to the
1890s, as did Schenkman before him. Since Cleveland’s terms spanned
the 1880s to 1890s, they may be correct.
According to Schenkman, “Each type was issued in as many as five
colors — tan, green, dark blue, maroon and bright red.” Four of these
colors are represented in my small sample.
Reverses of both series feature an elaborate monogram formed by
the letters U, C, and Co for Union Coffee Co. Tokens are virtually
always found holed, a situation exonumists characterize as “holed, as made.”
The Union Coffee Co. owned a patented process for roasting coffee
beans “retaining its strength and aroma ... put up in one pound
packages and hermetically sealed in its own natural strengths and
flavor” for 25 cents per pound, according to a contemporary ad.
The company staged “taste tests” to popularize its brands. A local
merchant that handled the Alaroma and Bunola brands would set up at a
fair or other social gathering, and dispense the coffee gratis.
According to an 1888 newspaper account of one such test, Alaroma brand
tasters at the fair were “thus able to practically test the merits of
Union Coffee’s brands proved so popular that 100-pound lots were
offered as lottery prizes.
An Indiana couple named their second and third daughters, Alaroma
and Bunola, in 1894 and 1897, respectively.
Fred L. Reed iii has been a collector and writer for many years.
Reach him at www.fredwritesright.com.