US Coins

A unique portrait of Benjamin Franklin graces token

A June 21 auction by Stack’s Bowers Galleries at the recent June Whitman Coin and Collectibles Expo in Baltimore included a special collection of Hard Times tokens from the collection of hobby legend and Coin World columnist Q. David Bowers. Hard Times tokens include privately issued cent-sized pieces struck from around 1832 to 1844, and these are divided in two main groups: store cards, which were issued by merchants, and tokens with political messages. Bowers wrote a book in 2014, published by Whitman and titled The Encyclopedia of Hard Times Tokens — Political Tokens and Store Cards 1832–1844: A History and Price Guide to Types and Varieties, that serves as a solid introduction to this fascinating collecting area. 

Here's the first of three tokens that Stack’s Bowers recently offered:

The Lot:

Undated (1829 to 1830) Wright & Bale, New York, Hard Times token, HT-340A, AU-55

The Price:


The Story:

An impressive portrait of Benjamin Franklin makes this undated (1829 to 1830) token issued by the firm of Wright & Bale a favorite with both Hard Times tokens and Frankliniania enthusiasts. Wright & Bale was a partnership between two engravers and the text on the reverse serves as a business card of sorts advertising their services. Wright was also a numismatist, interested in ancient coins, and as the catalog notes, “Given time and with modern Internet resources we will have to learn more about his participation in our hobby.”

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Today Hard Times tokens are classified by HT numbers — based on Lyman H. Low’s 1899 reference to the series updated more recently by Russell Rulau across several editions of his book Hard Times Tokens. This HT-340A token, graded About Uncirculated 55 by the auctioneer, sold for $16,450. It was previously part of the collections of the Long Island Public Library and was deaccessioned.

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