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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 10, March 5, 2006, Article 8

NUMISMATICS AND THE EARLY THERMOPLASTICS INDUSTRY

Dick Johnson writes: "Reading this article you are going to claim
I am on a soapbox for Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury
(since so many of my replies mention this firm). This Connecticut
firm made coin blanks for the U.S. Mint to strike Flying Eagle
cents (continued making both cent and nickel blanks for U.S. Mint
up until 1905), they struck coins for foreign governments. They
struck the award medals for the Columbian Exposition (too big a
job for the Philadelphia Mint, this took Scovill two years!).

Scovill dominated the manufacture of metal street car tokens and
sales tax tokens in the 20th century. I could go on mentioning
numismatic items from Hard Times Tokens in 1833 to Abraham Lincoln
ferrotypes in 1865 to World War II victory pins, all made by this
Waterbury firm. They were also a pioneer in thermoplastics.

Rubber was commercially vulcanized in Connecticut (after Goodyear's
experiments in NYC in 1844), leading to the use of other resins
mixed with polymers to form "thermoplastics." Celluloid was mentioned
by Katie Jaeger in her February Numismatist article on the medals
of the American Institute (also mentioned in last week's E-Sylum).
Alan Weinberg also commented last week and was correct in stating
that hard rubber, gutta percha and vulcanite were early forms of
thermoplastics. This was the beginning of today's plastics industry.

But it was the metal industry firms in central Connecticut valley
which took the celluloid ball and ran with it. Experimenting, creating
the tools and techniques to make the stuff. Commercializing it (like
the first rubber shoe sole plant in Hamden CT). These firms were
located from New Haven up into Massachusetts - including Scovill
in Waterbury -- just after the Civil War when industry was budding.

In hindsight it seems, employees who worked at the large firms making
thermoplastics, broke away from these firms once they learned how
easy it was to make the stuff. They created their own little cottage
factories (in small towns dotting the CT valley).

They couldn't do this for coins and tokens. Large firms, like
Scovill, had the costly rolling mills, upsetting machines and
striking press - all expensive and requiring lots of space. Just
the opposite for manufacturing thermoplastics. The press for making
small thermoplastic objects - tokens were ideal! - was similar to
and not much larger than a waffle iron!

Mixing two components together and putting a dollop in the iron
press and closing the lid - the heat and a some pressure made
small products (tokens, buttons, and small parts, even combs).
Set it up in an outbuilding on Monday, press it on Tuesday, and
sell it on Wednesday. That easy!

Daguerreotype cases were also made of thermoplastics in the same
manner. (Scovill was a pioneer in early photography and equipment,
too. Of course they made these cases to display photographs printed
on thin metal plates they also supplied.) Daguerreotype cases were
formed from molds made by the same engravers who cut the big firm's
dies. By adding chemical dyes to the resin and polymers they could
even make the thermoplastic objects in color.

And this leads to an interesting story. Up to this time, the word
for "die," the tool to strike coins, tokens and medals, was spelled
"dye" in America. With chemical dyes in the plant at the same time,
it was confusing. These very firms (including Scovill) ordered the
spelling to "die" for striking tools. Keep spelling chemicals "dye."

You had to remember a "die" changes a shape, a "dye" changes a color.

Second interesting story. Hiram Washington Hayden (1820-1904) was
hired by Scovill as a teenager to cut button dies. He rose through
the ranks, learned business, worked for other companies, formed his
own company with partners, Holmes, Booth and Haydens (with his
brother). Prospered, innovative, he received 58 patents (including
the technique for making metal tubing), owned multiple plants,
became wealthy - in fact he is the only engraver (listed in my coin
and medal artists directory) who became a 19th century millionaire!

His mansion still stands today in Waterbury and he was one of the
first installed in Waterbury's Hall of Fame. He remained an artist
throughout life and even submitted a design, at the invitation of
the U.S. Treasury, for the silver dollar change in 1892, twelve
years before he died.

Late in life he was asked what he was most proud of in his eventful
life. He replied: It was the mold he created for a daguerreotype
case!"

[This is fascinating information.  Thanks, Dick!  By the way,
Scovill also manufactured U.S. Encased Postage Stamps for inventor/
entrepreneur John Gault.  -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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