The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 7, February 14, 2010, Article 14


Neil Shafer writes:

Recently food coupons have been in the news with an article in Coin World and other sources having to do with the recent acquisition by the Smithsonian of a wonderful group from USDA. I was the donor for this collection of a significant group of the "food stamp change" used by retail grocers around the country until the end of 1978.

I had been able to locate many different issues from a wide selection of cities and states over the years from 1966 to 1978, but one area of special concentration was Chicago (because I was in nearby Racine, WI and Chicago appeared to be a place with very high potential). To that end I am attaching an article I wrote for Bank Note Reporter just over a year ago, in case some readers might find it of interest. It was at times just a bit dangerous!

A friend named Jim Downey and I are working, albeit slowly, on a listing of the paper change use by food stores. Tokens (plastic, metal including aluminum and brass, cardboard, also wood in several instances) will have to wait until time allows, unless someone else is also working on such a listing.

There ought to be a medal for contemporary numismatic researchers, because Neil deserves one. It's always a chore for someone to take the time and effort necessary to accumulate a collection of ephemeral numismatic items at the time they're being used. Because of their ephemeral nature, that's often the ONLY time such a collection can ever be assembled. In Neil's case, as the article shows, there can be some risk involved at times.

Neil's project was national in scope, and involved a bit of sleuthing. He connected with one of the printers of food stamp change tokens and acquired examples from a number of stores all at once. He then followed up leads to chase down other examples "in the wild." Here are a couple excerpts from the article. -Editor

You would never suspect that there could be any kind of danger involved with the search for food stamp change- unless you venture into certain areas of any larger city. Food markets are everywhere, in safe as well as rough areas of any given place, and my adventures in Chicago trying to chase down any and all available examples of food stamp change led me into some strange and totally unsafe situations, as you will read about shortly.

Before I get into the Chicago episodes, let me just tell you one instance of what I was discovering from random contacts and calls. I took state maps of areas of the country from which I had not yet been successful in finding anything. One example was South Dakota. The map showed some of the larger metropolitan locations in heavier lettering, so I decided to call an Aberdeen information operator (you could easily do that in 1971) and find out some names of local supermarkets. The operator answered, and I told her I was working on a USDA project (sounding official of course!) and could she please tell me some names of the bigger markets in her area. I heard her then say, "Mabel, where do you shop?” They talked a minute and then she gave me a name or two. One of them was Kessler's.

I then called Kessler's and talked to the manager, telling him I was working on a USDA project involving what kinds of items had been used for food stamp change. His response: "Oh, you mean our food chips?” Without having a clue as to what he was referring to, I immediately said, "Yes, that's exactly what I mean.” It turned out that his "food chips” consisted of 1c in aluminum (1c size) and 5 and 10 cents in wood! The wooden pieces are the usual size of what we know as wooden nickels... I had totally blundered into a most unusual issue!

While driving around to addresses I had in mind, at times I would see other stores that looked promising, so I would stop and ask about store change. One place where I did this was in the area of 25th and State Streets. I found nothing there, and as I went back to my auto I noticed a number of local individuals gathering around nearby. I scurried into the vehicle and closed the window just in time to avoid someone's reaching in! I got out of there as soon as I could, needless to say.

During one of my Chicago visits I had as one objective going to the store premises of Vito's Market. Vito's was a name on one of the cardboard disks I had obtained from Letterperfect Press, so I wanted to go there for more information. At this point I do not even remember the section of the city it was in, but I absolutely do recall what took place there, as vividly as if it had happened yesterday.

I went in, asked to see the manager, and was ushered upstairs to a small square office that had two open doorways. A middle-age man of slight stature with beard stubble and small oval glasses was sitting at a desk. I recall thinking that he looked for all the world like a typical underworld character who could have come straight out of a gangster movie! As soon as I entered this little office, each doorway was blocked by a very husky-looking bodyguard type individual. Taking all this in and moving as nonchalantly as I could, I approached the desk and told him about my project. As I offered to show him some examples of other store issues I had brought with me, I raised my briefcase and opened it to remove the pieces, whereupon those bodyguards came up very close to see what I was going to bring out of my briefcase.

After he saw the items I had with me, without a word he flicked his wrist at one of the men who brought me some examples of their cardboard disks in the standard 1, 5 and 25c denominations that Letterperfect made. I thanked him and made a quick exit.

All in all, I came out with a truly amazing array of items from this one city; I also realized that if I had not been there to do exactly what I did, these issues and unique pieces of all kinds would eventually have been totally lost to the numismatic world. This fact would also hold true for most of the issues I was able to secure from everywhere else. I was lucky to find what I did end up with, and I cannot even begin to think of all the issues that really were lost because no one knew or cared to know about them, especially in other big cities where basically the same kind of foraging would have produced similar results if done properly.

Every now and then I do run into some issue that is totally new to me, either on a dealer's list or a venue like eBay, so they are still out there waiting to be discovered. The thrill of the hunt never ceases!


DAVID SKLOW - FINE NUMISMATIC BOOKS offers the Q. David Bowers Research Library Sale Part II on June 12, 2010. Featured: Several scarce works by Nolie Mumey . PH: (719) 302-5686, FAX: (719) 302-4933. EMAIL: USPS: Box 6321, Colorado Springs, CO. 80934. Contact me for your numismatic literature needs!

Wayne Homren, Editor

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