Rising from the flames
- Published: Jan 9, 2013, 7 PM
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 Tribute designs.
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.
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