Civil War Tokens: Value Me As You Please
December 20, 2011 11:20 AM   Subscribe

During the US Civil War, metal monies were hoarded for their value, resulting in a shortage of available coins. The Union government issued official "paper coins" that weren't backed by by gold or silver. This "faith paper" lost value quickly, and for a short while, stamps were official currency. That didn't take, either, so enterprising individuals took it upon themselves to mint their own coinage. These are now known as Civil War Tokens (CTWs), and were made and used between late 1862 and mid 1864. On April 22, 1864, Congress set the weight of coins and set punishment for counterfeiting coins of up to one thousand dollars and imprisonment up to five years. Yet there are over ten thousand varieties of tokens, representing 22 states, 400 towns and about 1500 individual merchants. Melvin and his son Dr. George Fuld wrote key books in the CWT field, creating the rarity scale and composition key used by most numismatists. Given sheer number of CWTs, starting a collection might be daunting. Enter collector Ken Bauer, whose method breaks down the vast world into smaller collections, from anvils to watches and so much more.
posted by filthy light thief (9 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I have some fractional currency I've always wondered about, as well as some "mystery coins" which I now believe are CWTs. Thanks so much for this meaty post!
posted by kinnakeet at 11:35 AM on December 20, 2011

Somewhat reminiscent of Notgeld which were issued between WWI and II in Germany.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:50 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the history lesson, and the preparatory lesson all rolled into one. Now is the right time to check metal values, and stock up.

The question is, how long do we have left.
posted by MikeWarot at 12:19 PM on December 20, 2011

From sciencegeek's link:
They made it very pretty on purpose: many people collected the bills, and the debt would never have to be paid. Many were specifically made for collecting, they were called "Serienscheine", and special albums were sold for the specific purpose of organizing and displaying them. They were printed on all kinds of materials: leather, fabric, porcelain, silk, tin foil...
Notgeld is new to me, thanks for that!

Civil War Tokens are more closely related to 18th century Provincial tokens, or English Conder Tokens as they are also known in the US (nicknamed for James Conder, the Englishman who studied English tokens, minted his own coins, and, as luck would have it, found 150 ancient coins in a earthenware pot, below his house that was demolished as part of a road widening). The English tokens were made some 100 years earlier, also in response to metal coin hoarding.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:28 PM on December 20, 2011

Civil War tokens became illegal after the United States Congress passed a law on April 22, 1864 prohibiting the issue of any one or two-cent coins, tokens or devices for use as currency. On June 8, 1864 an additional law was passed that forbade all private coinage.

I always told people that the government was in the pocket of big Chuck E. Cheese.
posted by cmoj at 1:08 PM on December 20, 2011

Ok, I have to ask. I caught the civil war token piece on Collectors Weekly via Blort, and thought "that would make an interesting MeFi post, but really needs more to do it justice." Then I saw your post, thought for sure this was the proper treatment... only to find the cw link not among them!

In any case, this is a great post, and I'll greatly enjoy digging through it. Thanks.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:37 PM on December 20, 2011

I remember trade tokens in use well into the 60's. It was a good way to cheat you out of real money by giving you change in tokens.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 2:37 PM on December 20, 2011

Durn Bronzefist, it's the link in "Enter collector Ken Bauer," near the end of the OP. That's what kicked off my interest, too.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:25 PM on December 20, 2011

Ah, there it is. Somehow I missed it. Glad you tackled it, flt.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:29 PM on December 20, 2011

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