Tom Kays submitted this interesting story of a recently discovered group of charge coin tokens. -Editor A friend of mine is cleaning out the old New England estate of his mother-in-law that has been sealed up for many years. Deep in the attic among many boxes of fashionable women’s shoes, one of the boxes was heavy. The box held a small coin collection pulled from circulation circa the early 1960s. Carefully wrapped in tissue was this small group of tokens the likes of which I had never seen before. The fact that they were carefully wrapped up more precious than the coins and hidden among women’s shoes is a clue.
These are charge coins. Before plastic credit cards, fine department stores would extend credit on account and issue coins designed to fit on a key chain or by tucked away in a women’s purse so that she could go shoe shopping without cash money. They were issued by upscale establishment through the 1940s until charge-a-plates and credit cards took over. My family only paid cash back then, so these were not anything I’d have seen.
From the upper left you see Filene’s of Boston, the original department store whose seconds go on to fill the discount “basement” establishment. In the center is Jordan Marsh and at left is R.H. White, one of the “big three” department stores in early 20th century downtown Boston. The others CMF Co., in the upper right, JAH Co., in the lower right, and SN Co., far right I don’t know, nor can I read the lower left, heart shaped token.
The reverse of the R. H. White Co. charge coin has a nice eagle and a fairly low number so I expect it is early. There is a society that collects charge cards but little information about charge coins is available on Internet. Steve Alpert's Catalog of Charge Coins at 85 pages in length is said to be the only reference for this type of token. Do E-Sylum readers know of others?
Often I'm just as perplexed by an E-Sylum query, but I recognized these pieces immediately. I collected charge coins intensely for a time and have a nice selection from around the U.S. and Canada. I even have a large collection of Pittsburgh charge coins by variety, something that isn't documented in any book or article I'm aware of.
There is a predecessor to Alpert's book. The gentleman who popularized charge coins among token collectors is Ed Dence of Philadelphia. He published several editions of what became his Visual Guide to Store Charge Coins
. I wrote the index for one of the early editions.
These are handmade affairs, comprising sets of photocopied or hand-drawn images of charge coins, organized by country, state, city, and issuer. Each was assigned a catalog number according to a system similar to U.S. transportation, Civil War and other tokens. I have the 1994 Fourth Edition (shown here), but don't think I have a copy of the Alpert book yet.
- The "SN" monogram is actually "NS" for Snellenberg's of Philadelphia.
- "JAH" is the James A. Hearn Co, of New York, NY.
- "CMF" has me stumped. I was unable to find it in Dence's book.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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