Although the dominant area of numismatics is the collection and study of legal tender coins, numismatics is more than just coins. Numismatic is the collecting and study of items used in the exchange for goods, resolve debts, and objects used to represent something of monetary value. This opens up numismatic collecting to a wide range of items and topics that could make “the hunt” to put together the collection as much fun as having the collection.
Exonumia is the study and collection of tokens, medals, or other coin-like objects that are not considered legal tender. Exonumia opens numismatics to a wide variety of topics that could not be satisfied by collecting coins alone. An example of exonumia is the collection of transportation tokens. You may be familiar with transportation tokens from your local bus or subway company who used to sell tokens to place into fare boxes. Others may have used tokens to more easily pay in the express lanes at bridges and tunnels. A person who collects transportation tokens is called a Vecturist. For more information on being a Vecturist, visit the website for the American Vecturist Association.
Token collecting can be the ultimate local numismatic collection. Aside from transportation tokens, some states and localities issued tax tokens in order to collect fractions of a cent in sales taxes to allow those trying to get by in during down economic times to stretch their money further. Some communities issued trade tokens that allowed those who used them to use them as cash at selected merchants. Some merchants issued trade tokens that were an early form of coupons that were traded as coupons are traded today.
While tokens are items used to represent monetary value, medals are used to honor, commemorate, or advertize. The U.S. Mint produces medals that honor people, presidents, and events. Medals produced by the U.S. Mint are those authorized by law as a national commemoration including the medal remembering the attacks of 9/11.
Commemorative medals are not limited to those produced by the U.S. Mint. State and local governments have also authorized the producing medals on their behalf that were produced by private mints. Many organizations also have created medals honoring members or people that have influenced the organization. Companies have produced medals to honor their place in the community or something about the company and their community.
Many medals have designs that can be more beautiful than on coins since they are not limited to governmental mandated details and their smaller production runs allows for more details to be added. Medals can be larger and thicker than coins and made in a higher relief than something that could be manufactured by a government mint.
Exonumia collecting also involves elongated and encased coins. You may have seen the machines in many areas where you pay 50-cents, give it one of your cents, turn the wheel and the cent comes out elongated with a pattern pressed into the coin. Elongated coins have been used as advertisements, calling cards, and as a souvenir.
Encased coins are coin encircled with a ring that has mostly been used as an advertisement. One side will call the coin a lucky coin or provide sage advice with the other side advertising a business. Another form of encased coins are encased stamps. Encased stamps were popular in the second half of the 19th century and used for trade during times when there were coin shortages.
Other exonumia includes badges, counter stamped coins, wooden money, credit cards, and casino tokens. Counter stamped coins are coins that have been circulated in foreign markets that were used in payment for goods. When the coin was accepted in the foreign market, the merchant would examine the coin and impress a counter stamp on the coin proclaiming the coin to be genuine based on their examination. Although coins were counter stamped in many areas of the world, it was prevalent in China where the coins were stamped with the Chinese characters representing the person who examined the coin. These Chinese symbols are commonly referred to as “chop marks.”
One type of counter stamped coins are stickered coins. Stickered coins were popular in the first half of the 20th century; they were used as an advertisement. Merchants would purchase stickers and apply them to their change so that as the coins circulated, the advertising would reach more people. Some stickered coins acted as a coupon to entice the holder to bring the coin into the shop and buy the merchandise.
Remember the saying, “Don’t take any wooden nickels?” If you are a wooden money collector, you want to find the wooden nickels and other wooden denominations. Wooden nickels found popularity in the 1930s as a currency replacement to offer money off for purchases or as advertisement. Wooden nickels are still being produced today mostly as an advertising mechanism.
We cannot end the discussion of exonumia without mentioning Love Tokens and Hobo Nickels. Love Tokens became popular in the late 19th century when someone, usually a man, would carve one side of a coin, turn it into a charm for a bracelet or necklace, and give it to his loved one. The designed are as varied as the artists who created them. Hobo Nickels are similar in that hobo artists would carve a design into a Buffalo Nickel to sell them as souvenirs. While there are contemporary Love Tokens and Hobo Nickels, collectors have an affection for the classic design that shows the emotion of the period.
Currency collecting, formally called notaphily, is the study and collection of banknotes or legally authorized paper money. Notes can be collected by topic, date or time period, country, paper type, serial number, and even replacement or Star Notes (specific to the United States). Some consider collecting checks part of notaphily. Collectors of older cancelled checks are usually interested in collecting them based on the issuing bank, time period, and the signature. For the history of currency and their collecting possibilities, see my previous article, “History of Currency and Collecting”.
Scripophily is the study and collection of stock and bond certificates. This is an interesting subset of numismatics because of the wide variety of items to collect. You can collect in the category of common stock, preferred stock, warrants, cumulative preferred stocks, bonds, zero-coupon bonds, and long term bonds. Scripophily can be collected by industry (telecom, automobile, aviation, etc.); autographs of the officers; or the type of vignettes that appear on the bonds.
Militaria: Honorable Collectibles
Collecting of military-related items may be considered part of exonumia but deserves its own mention. It is popular to collect military medals and awards given to members since the medals themselves are works of art. Families will save medals awarded to relatives and even create museum-like displays to honor or memorialize the loved one.
Militaria includes numismatic-related items that represent the various services. One of the growing areas of collectibles is Challenge Coins. A challenge coin is a small medal, usually no larger than 2-inches in diameter, with the insignia or emblem of the organization. Two-sided challenge coins may have the emblem of the service on the front and the back has the emblem of the division or other representative service. Challenge coins are traditionally given by a commander in recognition of special achievement or can be exchange as recognition for visiting an organization.
Over the last few years, civilian government agencies and non-government organizations (NGO) have started to create and issue challenge coins. Most of those agencies have ties to the military, but not all. Like their military counterparts, a manager or director can give challenge coins in recognition of special achievement or for visiting an organization.
Another area of military collectibles is Military Payment Certificates (MPC). MPC was a form of currency that was used to pay military personnel in foreign countries. MPC were first issued to troops in Europe after World War II in 1946 to provide a stable currency to help with commerce. MPC evolve from Allied Military Currency (AMC) to control the amounts of U.S. dollars circulating in the war zone and to prevent enemy forces from capturing dollars for their own gain. Prior to World War II, troops were paid in the currency of the country where they were based. With the ever moving fronts and the allies need to control the economies to defeat the Axis powers, AMC was issued to allow the military to control their value.
After the war, MPC replaced APC in order to control the currency and prevent the locals from hoarding U.S. dollars preventing the building of their own economies. When military officials discovered that too many notes were in the circulation, being hoarded, and thriving on the black market, series were demonetized and reissued to military personnel. Those holding MPC notes not in the military received nothing and were encouraged to circulate their own currency.
MPC were printed using lithography in various colors that changed for each series. From the end of World War II to the end of the Vietnam War there were 15 series printed with only 13 issued. Although the two unissued series were destroyed, some examples have been found in the collections of those involved with the MPC system. Amongst the 13 series that were issues, there are 94 recognized notes available for collectors. Most notes are very affordable and accessible to the interested collector.