The Star Coin Book

The shameless promotion of the coin business and extraordinary search for special rare coins did not begin with the explosion of the Internet. It can be traced to legendary coin dealer B. Max Mehl. From the empire he built in Austin, Texas, Mehl was probably the first coin dealer to market coins to the general public.

Mehl started advertising in The Numismatist in 1903 and in the following year issued his first catalog. In 1906, Mehl paid $12.50 to advertise in Collier’s magazine offering his Star Coin Book for 10-cents. Later, Mehl would expand the book and sell it for $1.

Benjamin Maximillian Mehl was born in Łódź, Russia (now Poland) in 1884. His family immigrated to the United States in 1895 and worked as a shoe salesman before he became a coin dealer. Stories about his relentless promotion report that he was shipping coins to more than 30,000 times a year.

Mehl is famous for his advertising that he “Will pay $50 for a nickel of 1913 with Liberty Head, not Buffalo.” Although he never found one, that did not stop him from advertising and trying.

Then there is the catalog, Star Coin Book. Before the Red Book, Blue Book, and Standard Catalog, there were few books that provided this amount of information and was affordable to the general public. The Star Coin Book was his marketing tool to make and keep people interested and to keep the orders coming in.

Mehl sold so many catalogs that one can be purchased for as little as $5.00 or as high as $50.00 depending on the year and condition. Many are in poor condition since they were not meant to be saved. Mehl wanted people to buy a new catalog every year.

Imagine my surprise when I was going through a box of odd books that I purchased from an estate and found a 1925 edition of The Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia and Premium Catalog. I picked up the book, paused as I tried to focus on the well-worn cover, and smiled as I realized what I had found.

The book is not in good condition but it is part of numismatic lore. It is Mehl’s work as a cataloger and seller of coins and some currency. It is page after page of coins and the values that he would pay if you wanted to sell your coins. These values are a range of what he would pay and he notes that is based on the condition of the coin. He does include a description of the differences in condition and most coin types include some type of picture, whether it is a photographic plate or a line drawing.

After the lists there are a few pages of history of coins, “Coins Past and Present” that is followed by coins he has for sale. All sales were done by phone or by postal mail. Remember, this was long before fax machines and the Internet!

There are both contemporary and modern writings about Mehl that describe him as a huckster and mendacious. Others describe him as a genius of marketing that helped grow the hobby. Regardless, Mehl has a place is numismatic history that has to be respected for being able to use the tools he had to build a successful business.
 

Mehl built his company’s offices at 1204 Magnolia Ave. in Fort Worth. The building was rescued long after Mehl had died but his name still appears over the main entrance.

Image of 1204 Magnolia Avenue take from Google Maps.

A Glenn Family Short Snorter

John Herschel Glenn, Jr. is a true American Hero.

I feel so comfortable saying this that I will not qualify that statement with, “few will argue that ….” When you are the first American to strap yourself into a tiny capsule that is forced into space on top of the Atlas LV-3B rocket, essentially a huge Roman candle, there is no argument on his status in history.

Glenn was not only the first American in space but is also the oldest person ever to go to space. In 1998, at the age of 77, Glenn rode on Discovery on STS-95 as part of a study by the National Institute of Aging. Although the study was not criticized, the selection of Glenn was. While there will be an asterisk in history about the criticism, it will not diminish Glenn’s place in history.

While out looking for collectible inventory, I came across an auction of memorabilia from the widow of a crewman that was aboard the ship that picked up Glenn after he splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.

On February 20, 1962, Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral on Friendship 7 for what ended up being a 4-hour 55-minute flight into history. During the flight, a sensor noted that a heat shield had loosened and could endanger his re-entry. Glenn was ordered to leave a solid-fueled retrorocket pack in place to protect the shield.

Although Glenn’s re-entry was calculated, he carried a note that read, “I am a stranger. I come in peace. Take me to your leader and there will be a massive reward for you in eternity” in several languages, in case he splashed down in an area where the Navy was not positioned.

According to the auction house, two ships were in position based on the projections as to where Friendship 7 was supposed to splash down in the Atlantic. A third was positioned further south and then moved when calculations suggested that the retrorocket pack would change the trajectory of the capsule. When Friendship 7 splashed down further south than expected there was a race amongst the three ships to see who could pick up Glenn and etch their names into history.

The third and most southern positioned ship, the U.S.S. Randolph (CV-15), was in the best position to recover Glenn and the capsule. In the race to the area of the capsule, the Randolph arrived first and pulled Glenn out of the Atlantic. Glenn remained aboard the Randolph where he was medically examined before the aircraft carrier docked in Florida on Friday, February 23, 1962.

Saturday was shore leave for the crew of the Randolph in Key West, Florida. To celebrate, Captain Claude C. (Buddy) Inskeep and select members of his crew were invited for a pleasure cruise aboard The Big Wheel fishing boat where a number of pictures and autographs were offered.

In the auction lot of memorabilia were pictures of John Glenn and his family, a memento picture of some of the people on board The Big Wheel along with a medal featuring John Glenn, and an autographed $1 silver certificate.

It is the silver certificate that makes this lot a very cool find. Technically, we could call this a short snorter since it is a signed piece of paper currency of members together on a trip. But these are not ordinary autographs. From top to bottom the autographs include John Glenn’s wife Annie Glenn; John H. Glenn, Jr.; (John David) Dave Glenn (son, then 17 years old); and (Carolyn Ann) Lyn Glen (daughter, then 15 years old). Below the printed signature of Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest is written “2-24-62.”

I have no doubt that the autographs and the memorabilia are authentic. It is something that you just cannot find every day! Even though I am a dealer and should sell what I purchase, I know that this is a memento from history and of a hero who passed last year. I know I can make a hefty profit from this purchase since I know I vastly underpaid what it is worth, but I am having a hard time considering letting them go.

Glenn family autographed “Short Snorter” dated February 24, 1962, four days after Glenn orbited the earth in Friendship 7

For now, I own them but might entertain offers. But the offers must knock my socks off because this is just too cool to consider anything else!

Note: On the reverse of the picture of Glenn and Gen. McElroy, it does not identify the general by his first name. Based on some reasearch, I believe this is Major General Ivan Wilson McElroy. If someone has different information, please let me know!

Buying the book

An adage of numismatics is “Buy the book before the coin.” It was first used by numismatist and dealer Aaron Feldman in an advertisement that appeared in the March 1966 issue of The Numismatist. Aside from being used to sell books, this sound advice tells collectors to enhance their knowledge of the hobby.

Education is important because helps build the skills and tools they need to navigate the world. Education helps us read, write, calculate and communicate. Without education, we would not be able to perform our jobs competently, accurately and safely. Education also gives us a view of the world which we live and provides a context to how we arrived at society today.

Numismatic education is important because it teaches us how to understand the and navigate the world of money and the economics that made it necessary. Without numismatic education coins, currency, bonds, tokens, and medals are just objects to be ogled without context. We would not know why these items are important or how to collect them. Numismatic education not only teaches us about how to identify these items and collect them but provides the background into history that explains how these items represent today’s society.

The areas I find interesting are the history and policies that have led to how things are today. History gives us the lessons learned as to how it was once done and the evolution of the policies that govern the way any institution is run. This is no different for the money manufacturing apparatus of the United States.

I have been on a book buying binge. If I find a book that will add to my curiosity, then it will become part of my growing library. Over the last few months, I have probably spent more on books than coins. With the exception of the few review copies (that I really should review), most of the books I buy are older and have information that I have not found anywhere else.

There are books from my new stack of older books I would like to highlight.

History of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 100 Years

Compared to the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing does not get the same love by collectors. Created as the National Currency Bureau in 1862, it became the official security printing agency of the United States government. History of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing covers the first 100 years of the agency’s history. Printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and sold for $7.00 in 1962, this book outlines the growth of the agency from cutting fractional currency printed by commercial printers to pioneering currency production including new press operations and how to create plates.

It is a beautifully produced book that stands out for its quality in both production and writing. The history of the BEP is well written with images of the process with images of some of the printing element interspersed throughout the text. Also included are intaglio printed images from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing archives. Between the pages with the intaglio prints is a tissue-like paper to help protect and preserve the images.

Although there are many good online histories of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing none of them are complete and does not include the other security printing history of the agency including bonds and stamps.

Three on Counterfeiting Currency

The most read post on the Coin Collectors Blog is “How easy is it to pass counterfeit currency.” I am fascinated that since I published that post there it has logged over 5,000 unique hits. I am sure that the post is being picked up by search engines and shown to people who are looking for illicit information. They are probably disappointed that the post is not an instruction manual, but I am fascinated that so many people would be interested.

It made me curious about the history of counterfeiting in the United States. Since I am on a book buying binge, it was time to find some interesting titles:

  • Illegal Tender, Counterfeiting and the Secret Service in Nineteenth-Century America by David R. Johnson. To save money, this is a former library book in very good condition. I have skimmed this book and it looks like it will provide a good background as to the evolution of the U.S. Secret Service. The U.S. Secret Service is a unique agency. It was formed to investigate and deter counterfeiting of U.S. currency starting in 1865. They were so well respected that they were asked to protect President Theodore Roosevelt following the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. Although many countries have divisions of their law enforcement services that investigate counterfeiting, the United States is the only country that has an agency whose mission to protect the currency from counterfeiting.
  • Banknote Reporters and Counterfeit Detectors from 1949

    Counterfeit, Mis-Struck and Unofficial, U.S. Coins by Don Taxay. While my copy has condition issues, including water damage, it is still a book written by Taxay that has to be worth reading. Since this is my most recent purchase it has been added to the “up next” queue.
  • Bank Note Reporters and Counterfeit Detectors, 1826-1866, by William H. Dillistin. Published by the American Numismatic Society in 1949, this book is a survey of experts in counterfeit detection that describes what to look for. It is also a catalog of publications in counterfeit detection and the authors. An interesting exercise may be to work on trying to find the papers and pamphlets listed in this book. I also liked the images in the back of the book that shows what to look for to detect counterfeits.

Illustrated History of Coins and Tokens Relating to Canada

Illustrated History of Coins and Tokens Relating to Canada by P.N. Breton

When I reviewed 2017 Canadian Circulating Coins, Tokens & Paper Money I noted that the third section of the book is dedicated to Breton Tokens. Breton Tokens refer to the coins and tokens that were documented by Pierre Napoleon Breton in 1894. Although I am not a collector of Breton Tokens it would be great to have a copy of the book. Think of it as owning a copy of “Penny Whimsy” by Dr. William Sheldon or the first edition of United States Pattern Coins by J. Hewitt Judd.

I have to admit to “picking” this book during a sale of books from my local coin club. The club is selling off items in its library that there seems to be little interest. Periodically, a few books are brought to a meeting and sold by silent auction. When Illustrated History of Coins and Tokens Relating to Canada, I did not pay attention. I was drawn that it was an older book about Canadian coins and that it is written in both French and English. What made this book stand out is that each page had two columns with the French text on the left and the English on the right. The format was fascinating I bid and won the book. Only after I started to go through my pile this past week to prioritize my reading list did I realize what I had purchased.

Although this is not a priority read, to have a contemporary reference about Breton Tokens written by P.N. Breton should make a fascinating read.

So… what’s on your bookshelf?

Godspeed, John Glenn

New Frontier Bronze Medal features the portraits of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. facing left, and Friendship 7 astronaut John Herschel Glenn Jr. facing right. The reverse features the Apollo 11 LEM orbiting the moon and the Friendship 7 mission capsule orbiting Earth.

Over the years, society has started labeling people heroes for doing something as minimal as their job. While some of these jobs require a heroic sense of self, like running into a burning building to save trapped people, they are really not heroes. We should remember that these people do an extraordinary and dangerous job and should be respected. But being a hero should have meaning, like doing something that nobody else could or would do.

Heroism is climbing to the top of the Atlas LV-3B rocket, that was rushed to completion and whose tests did not exactly go as planned and launched into low Earth orbit trying to help the United States catch up in the space race. With the entire world watching and the next year after the Soviets made their own flight into orbit, John Herschel Glenn, Jr. rode Friendship 7 into history.

COL John Glenn

COL Glenn had nothing to prove before being launched into space. He dropped out of college to enlist in the Army Air Corps in 1943 only to transfer to the Navy in 1944 in order to be a pilot. Glenn then flew for the Navy in World War II and Korea. After the Korean War, Glenn was stationed at the Patuxent Naval Air Station in southern Maryland to become a test pilot. Among his accomplishments was being the first pilot to break the sound barrier on a transcontinental flight and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. But that was not enough for COL Glenn, he applied for the space program.

Glenn was so humble that he said that he was the just the next one up. But subsequent stories came out later that with the push to have an American fly in Earth’s orbit quickly, the schedule was manipulated so that Glenn was the pilot of that mission. Some have accused Glenn of using his relationship with President Kennedy for that honor, but that was later disproven.

NASA Payload Specialist for STS-95

It was his friendship with Kennedy that prevented Glenn from flying again. Kennedy was so afraid that this hero and friend would be killed, he ordered NASA to ground Glenn forever. When Glenn flew on Discovery (STS-95) in 1998, President Bill Clinton had to rescind Kennedy’s order that kept Glenn grounded. John Glenn was 77 when he went to space on Discovery becoming the oldest person in space.

In between flights into space, Glenn became a corporate executive with Royal Crown Cola with an eye on politics. He started with an attempted run at the senate in 1964 but withdrew after a personal accident. He was with Robert F. Kennedy on the campaign trail when Kennedy was assassinated. In 1970 lost the Democratic primary for the senate against Howard Metzenbaum. Glenn finally won the 1974 Democratic primary and was elected Senator from Ohio, a seat he held until retiring in 1999.

Official U.S. Senate portrait of John Glenn

Along the way, Glenn was considered to be a candidate for vice president and even ran for president in 1984 before dropping out of the primary.

From the day he dropped out of college to join the Army through the end, John Glenn has been nothing less than a hero. He spent most of this life in service to his country with impeccable honor and distinction. Glenn showed how good people can serve for the sake of service without having to get anything more out of the service than the satisfaction that he made life better.

We are better for having had John Herschel Glenn, Jr. amongst us.

Godspeed, John Glenn.

Still frame of John Glenn in orbit, taken by a motion picture camera inside Friendship 7

Credits

  • Image of the New Frontier Bronze Medal courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
  • All other images are from government sources and in the public domain.

VOTE!

Voting Coin TossThe election of 1800 was a rematch of the incumbent John Adams, the Federalist, and his Vice President and Democratic-Republican Party nominee, Thomas Jefferson. At the time, the president was elected with the most Electoral College votes and the Vice President was the candidate with the second most votes.

There were no rules on how the states selected electoral votes. Some states directly selected electors while others voted for the candidate whose party selected electors. It was 200 years before Florida would become an election issue but for this election, Georgia was the issue when its certificate of election was defective because it was not in the right format. But the President of the Senate, who was the election judge, counted the Georgia votes.

The race ended with Jefferson and Democratic-Republican Vice Presidential candidate Aaron Burr in a 73-73 tie. Since there was no clear winner, the fourth presidential election in the nation’s history set up an early test for the new constitution and was sent to the House of Representatives for resolution.

In 1801, when the House convened on February 11, the chamber was controlled by the Federalists. As the first partisan election, the Federalists were not happy with the choice causing some not to vote or vote against the candidate they liked the least. In 35 ballots over seven days, the vote was 8 states selecting Jefferson, 6 for Burr, and no result for Maryland and Vermont whose delegations tied.

During the votes, Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist, urged his fellow Federalists to support Jefferson. Hamilton thought Jefferson would be a better choice because “by far not so dangerous a man.” Hamilton was not as confident about Burr. Hamilton would later confirm his feeling on July 11, 1804.

After a letter writing campaign by Hamilton, the four delegates from Maryland that supported Burr shifted their vote to “no selection” as did the Burr supporters from Vermont, Delaware, and South Carolina. That would give Jefferson the vote from 10 states to become the third president of the United States.

If we learn nothing else from history, every vote counts. Go out and vote!

Image courtesy of iStock Photo.

HOLY COW!

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs!
It only took 108 years!
I guess they need an update to the poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon
Tinker to Evers to Chance.

Obligitory numismatic content:

Cubs numismatic collectibles

Cubs numismatic collectibles can be purchase from the Highland Mint or MLBShop.com

Credits

Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar

The original bit coin.

The original bit coin.

Let’s not put the cart before the horse. We all have used adages. Some are centuries old when it was really something special when a penny saved was a penny earned. For some adages, things are not always what they seem which makes appearances deceiving.

In a comment about a technical issue, I was trying to explain that something would not work and exclaimed, “That isn’t worth two-bits.”

To the few people in the room within my age group, they understood what I said. Those younger than being eligible for AARP and those born outside of the United States did not understand. Since it is more blessed to give rather than receive, it gave me the opportunity to teach someone about the origin of money in the United States.

When the colonies were settled, George I was the King of England. Although the king ruled from an ocean away, the governors sent to manage the colonies on his behalf were under strict orders to not allow the colonists to coin money. An exception was made during a small period in the 17th century, colonists had to make due with the low-value copper coinage the king and his governors allowed.

Even with a standing army in the colonies, the governors could not control the commerce. Instead, they applied duties and fees for allowing the colonists to trade with the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Notice that there were no taxes because only the king could tax the royal subjects. Governors could levy duties to run the colonies. They also took kickbacks and bribes in order to get their way.

Although the Pound Sterling was the coin of the realm it was not available to the colonies. Instead, trading posts accepted the 8 reales coin, also known as the Thaler or Spanish Milled Dollar, as payment for goods and services. With the trade of high-cost goods like tobacco, cotton, and hides caught in the Appalachian Mountains the colonies relied more on the Spanish Milled Dollar than on the copper British coins.

Colonial governors ignored the growing economy, as they were able to satisfy the companies that sponsored the settlements and paid the taxes while lining their pockets. Colonists were able to make do with what was left.

A problem came about that everything could not be worth 8 reales and without subsidiary coinage, it was impossible to give change. Using the silver value of the coin, people would cut the coin into pieces in order to make subsidiary coinage. A milled dollar cut in half was a half-dollar. That half-dollar cut in half was a quarter-dollar and the quarter-dollar cut in half was called a bit.

The bit was the basic unit of commerce since prices were based on the bit. Of course, this was not a perfect solution. It was difficult to cut the quarter-dollars in half with great consistency which created problems when the bit was too small, called a short bit. Sometimes, goods or services would be adjusted to accommodate the short bit. Other times, short bits were supplemented with the English pennies that were allowed to circulate in the colonies.

Getting back to our adage, two bits were made from a quarter-dollar. Saying something was not worth two bits was either a negotiating tactic or someone wanted to use a short bit to pay for an item. Like many adages that have origins in the 17th and 18th centuries, the reason for their existence has been lost with time.

But arguing about its origin would be rocking the boat. We do know that some of our colonial ancestors should have measured twice and cut once to avoid the problem. But alas, there is no sense crying over spilled milk.

From my collection

Bit coin image courtesy of The Dreamer Comic by Laura Innes.

Indecision 2016: Flip a coin

Have you noticed that every election “is the most important in our history?” Or that “you have no clearer choice” than whatever any of the candidates are selling? There are so many clichés that it would require its own blog post.

But what does that have to do with numismatics?

Long-Stanton Manufacturing Company was founded in 1862 by John Stanton to make copper tokens that were used by merchants in the Cincinnati area when money was in short supply during the Civil War. Before starting his company, Stanton owned a company that provided the illustrations and dies that were used to make advertising tokens for the 1860 election.

The Election of 1860 preceded the outbreak of the Civil War. It featured fractured party nominees arguing over the future of the union. The Republican Party, formed out of the ashes of the Whig Party, nominated former representative from Illinois Abraham Lincoln. The Democratic Party nominated Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas. But the Democrats were split along the issue of slavery. Pro-slavery southern Democrats formed their own party and nominated then Vice President John C. Breckinridge from Kentucky. A few other candidates were nominated but these were the three that were the focus of the election.

One thing that is considered a highlight of this campaign were the famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. The main theme of the seven debates was slavery. Primarily, Lincoln was anti-slavery and maintaining the union. Douglas was not pro-slavery but favored new territories to choose their own paths. Lincoln argued in his “House Divided” speech that Douglas wanted to nationalize slavery. This came following Douglas’s sponsoring of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that repealed the ban on slavery in the new territories passed as part of the Missouri Compromise.

Although the use of language was more refined in 1858, the issues were just as divisive.

Seven debates were not enough for the public. Manufacturers, such as the one that Stanton provided illustration and die making services for, struck tokens for the candidates and their supporters to give away to gain support. Lincoln won the Election of 1860 with a majority of the electoral votes carrying 18 of 33 states while gaining only 39.8-percent of the popular vote.

Some say the election of 2016 is the most divided in our history. If we do not count the Election of 1824 in which nobody received a majority of electoral votes and the results had to be decided by the House of Representatives, it could be one of the more contentious election since the 1976 Carter-Ford race.

The folks at Long-Stanton thinks there is an indecision in this election, although the polls show that the country is about evenly split. They think to celebrate the 156 years since John Stanton created his tokens the company created their Indecision 2016 token.

Indecision 2016 token is 39mm and made of brass. Portraits of each of the candidates are on either side. If you are undecided, you can flip the token to choose who you will vote for.

Unfortunately, the portraits barely represent the candidates. While the TRUMP side of the token is passible the CLINTON side would not be recognizable if it was not marked. While I do not consider either candidate physically attractive these portraits are worse.

Since it is expensive to produce tokens and medals to just give away, the tradition of striking these types of pocket pieces are no longer part of the campaign. If you have ever read Warman’s Political Collectibles: Identification and Price Guide, you would see all the interesting trinkets that would be produced in support of the candidates. Nowadays, those who collect political memorabilia would be hard pressed to find something more than a button or lapel pin.

Having received the Brexit token, I decided to purchase one of the Long-Stanton Indecision 2016 tokens for my collection. Although the token looks better in hand since it has a proof-like strike, a close-up view of the portraits are about as bad as the images on Long-Stanton’s website. For $8.95 for a single token, including shipping, it is not a bad deal. They do offer discounts for buying more than a few.

Included in the package was an aluminum token from Long-Stanton that is “GOOD FOR 50 IN MERCHANDISE.” It does not identify the exact value of 50 whether it means cents or dollars, but it does not matter since it is unlikely to be redeemed from my collection. At 31mm it is smaller than the Indecision 2016 token but it is a throwback to times when tokens were created for store credit before paper coupons became ubiquitous.

Rather than go with my numismatic collection, this token will go along with a small collection I have of political memorabilia. It will join other numismatic-related items that are related to my favorite president Teddy Roosevelt. I hope he is not insulted by either of these candidates. Somehow, I think T.R., George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln might not be happy if they were around today.

Charge it!

For as long as there has been money or commerce, there has been some form of credit. Whether it was borrowing a few coins until the next payday or today’s credit cards, credit has been a fuel of economic development for quite some time. The financial industry is built on credit and charging customers to borrow money and spread the payments out over time. By some estimates the average household owes over $16,000 in credit card debt.

The United States was founded on credit. During the founding of the country currency had been limited to coins with an intrinsic value based on their gold, silver or copper content. As the King of England tried to tax the colonies to pay for the wars in Europe, the colonies looked for ways of financing their own governments to provide services. they issued paper notes. These notes functioned as currency but actually were bills of credit, short-term public loans to the government. For the first time, the money had no intrinsic value but was valued at the rate issued by the government of the colony in payment of debt. Every time the colonial government would need money, they would authorize the printing of a specified quantity and denomination of notes that it would use to pay creditors. The emission laws also included a tax that would used to repay the bill of credit and the promised interest.

Later, the era we now refer to as Obsolete Banknotes (or Broken Banknotes), were currency issued by banks under permission of the Department of the Treasury that were supposed to be backed by the assets of the issuing bank. Banks were supposed to be able to back at least 90-percent of the value of the notes with hard currency. But the banks were not honest with the Treasury Department, issued more currency than assets, and many went out of business because they could not cover the value of the notes issued.

Credit run amok has been the cause of nearly every major market downturn in history including the most recent dire recession that began in 2008.

The concept of institutionalizing consumer debt was first written about in Looking Backward, 2000 to 1887 by Edward Bellamy. Bellamy, a writer from Massachusetts, wrote about Julian West, a young American who falls into a deep, hypnotic sleep and wakes up in the year 2000. As part of West’s experience, Bellamy describes purchases being made using a credit card. Bellamy’s credit card was limited to the amount on deposit. The description is more like a debit or secured credit card of today. After the book became popular, the concept of consumer credit began to be institutionalized.

Hotels and other higher-end retailers were first. They would create medals or tokens that could be carried in the pocket or have a hole to include them on a keychain. Much like the Colgate tokens previously written about, the use of metal tags and tokens began at the beginning of the 20th century and was stopped by the War War II efforts.

Credit tokens were nondescript items with the name of the establishment and the user’s account number which lead to a number of problems. Since the account number was engraved into the tag, it was up to the cashier to write down the account number. Mistakes would lead to unpaid bills. A later improvement was to include raised letters that could be rubbed onto the paper using a pencil or carbon paper in order to record the number correctly, a feature that would be added to the plastic charge plate before the invention of the magnetic strip.

These tokens did not include the customer’s name. Although many can be mailed to the company so that the keys could be returned to the original owner, thieves would keep the tokens and use them. Stores would later have to produce lists of invalid or stolen charge numbers to verify the sale at the register. In the day before computers, this was a time consuming task.

Stores continue to think the risks are worth dealing with since credit purchases appear to be more popular than cash-based purchases.

One of the early adopters of credit purchases was Abraham & Straus, Inc. Founded in 1865 by Abraham Abraham in Brooklyn, the store was operated on Fulton Street as a small clothing outlet until its later flagship store was built closer to downtown Brooklyn in 1883. As part of expanding the store and funding the move, Abraham received funding from Nathan and Isidore Straus. When the company reopened at 422 Fulton Street the was renamed Abraham & Straus, the name that was used until its closing in 1995.

Known as A&S throughout the New York metropolitan area, it was a little more upscale from other discount stores of the time. Although the stores expanded as far as the Philadelphia region, it would not see the same success as the New York-area stores. A&S was a favorite amongst the burgeoning middle class of the post-World War II Baby Boomer generation especially for women’s clothes. I have a lot of memories waiting outside of the A&S with my father at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, NY as my (late) mother would go shopping in A&S. And the family car, a black 1963 Chevy Impala with red interior, did not include air conditioning!

Apparently, I survived those shopping trips along with my recent find an on old A&S credit token. While searching through a cigar box of old tokens, I found this pre-World War II item. Aside from bringing back the memories, and reminder of the hot days waiting for my mother to try on nearly every dress in the store, I though this would be a perfect addition to my collection of New York numismatic memorabilia.

Remember, you do not have to collect coins to have fun with numismatics!

NOTE: Electronic versions of Looking Backward, 2000 to 1887 by Edward Bellamy can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

Clean history for 20-cents

Proof that numismatics can be used to learn more about history through the economics they represent. Sometimes more telling than coins are exonumia items which have more descriptive value than coins.

Rummaging through a bag of small items recently purchased from an estate sale I found two square tokens. Both are made of aluminum and measured 27mm per side (about 1-inch). Both offer 10-cents off a purchase of personal care products. One will provide a discount on Colgate’s or Palmolive Shave Cream and the other for 10-cents off for the purchase of Colgate’s Ribbon Dental Cream.

While these tokens are very interesting, I want to know when they are from? After examining both sides of each token and not finding any indication of a date, it was time to turn to an Internet search engine to figure out when this token could have been made. We start with looking for the company and product information for Colgate-Palmolive-Peet. From this, we found the history of today’s Colgate-Palmolive.

The company was founded in 1806 by English immigrant soap and candle maker William Colgate. Colgate began by making candles, soap and starch in a factory on Dutch Street in New York City under the name William Colgate & Company. Colgate was the first company to begin selling individual soap cakes in uniform sizes. Following William Colgate’s death in 1857, his son Samuel Colgate reorganized business as Colgate & Company. Samuel did not want to run his father’s business but felt its continued existence with the right thing to do.

NOTICE TO DRUGGIST
THIS TOKEN REDEEM-
ABLE FOR 10¢ ONLY
IF TAKEN IN PART
PAYMENT FOR
ARTICLE NAMED ON
REVERSE SIDE. ANY
OTHER APPLICATION
CONSTITUTES A FRAUD
COLGATE-PALMOLIVE
PEET CO.
Text on tokens

Colgate & Company continued to grow. By 1866 the company introduced the first perfumed soap which was then followed by Cashmere Bouquet. It was the first milled perfumed toilet soap, became a registered trademark in 1872. The next year Colgate introduced their first toothpaste that were sold in jars. The product did not sell well until 1896 when Colgate began selling Colgate Ribbon Dental Cream in collapsable tubes. By 1908 Colgate ended production of their jarred toothpaste.

In 1898, B.J. Johnson developed a formula for soap made of palm and olive oils. The soap was so popular that the company was renamed “Palmolive” to reflect the name of its most popular product (I bet you didn’t know where the name came from). By the turn of the century, Palmolive was the world’s best selling soap.

During this time, the Peet Brothers in Missouri was looking to expand their soap business when the opportunity for them to buy Palmolive from B.J. Johnson. In 1926, the merger of the two companies became Palmolive-Peet Company. Two years later in 1928 the Palmolive-Peet merged with Colgate to form Colgate-Palmolive-Peet. Peet was dropped from the name in 1953 to Colgate-Palmolive Company as it is still known as today.

Let’s start with the obvious. Since Colgate-Palmolive-Peet only existed from 1928 through 1953, it would be logical to assume that the token is from that time period.

To try to narrow down the time-period further, I searched for similar tokens to see if I could find other evidence. While searching, I found a set of similar tokens issued by the Palmolive-Peet Company. This suggests that the company could have continued issuing similar tokens following the 1928 merger.

Trade and tax tokens were popular in the use of trade in the 1920s through the depression. In fact, during the depression, many of these tokens were traded as currency in areas where currency was in short supply. However, many of these tokens stopped being used and circulated in 1942. Since aluminum was part of the scrap metal drives that were used to gather the materials to build war equipment, many of these tokens were turned in to merchants who returned them to the companies for cash. Many were later scrapped.

Without having further information the best I can do is narrow the period it was issued from 1928 through 1941.

As part of my search, I found a few listings on eBay that claimed that these tokens were issued in the 1920s. As we have seen that may not be correct. While being issued in 1929 may be possible, it is more likely that these tokens were issued in the early 1930s.

Of course if you have more information about these tokens please leave comments below.

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