Last year we discussed several U.S. tokens of the half dime denomination, several of which mimic the design of the U.S. seated Liberty Half Dime. The August 2017 issue of the
E-Gobrecht, the Liberty Seated Collectors Club’s electronic newsletter includes a nice article by Len Augsburger on half dime tokens. With permission, we're republishing it here.
For the Half Dime Collector Who Has Everything Else
Hard times tokens are loosely defined as large cent equivalents that circulated in the 1830s and 1840s. These pieces frequently bore satirical or political slogans in references to the economic
state of country. In 1837, New York banks suspended specie payments for paper instruments, and the nation suffered in recession until the mid-1840s. In addition to satirical and political pieces,
merchant tokens of the era are also sometimes included in the “hard times” group. This month we look at two such tokens.
The first comes from St. Louis and was issued by David Nicholson. TokenCatalog.com, an essential research resource for American tokens, gives the illustration below and notes “Nicholson, born in
Scotland in 1814, moved to Canada and then in 1838 to St. Louis. By 1850 he operated one of, if not the largest grocery businesses in the city from his store at Number 1 Fourth Street. He was still
in business in 1870, and died in 1880.” A search of the Newman Numismatic Portal (https://nnp.wustl.edu) reveals a couple auction appearances of this piece. Milferd Bolender, an Illinois dealer, sold
an example in 1954 for $12.50, while an 1884 sale by William Woodward realized $0.15.
This trade token likely dates to the 1840s and clearly adapts the reverse of the Liberty Seated half dime introduced in 1837. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is replaced by STATE OF MISSOURI
on the reverse. These tokens would have been used to make change at Nicholson’s establishment, and in addition served as an advertising vehicle.
Joe Levine made a remarkable discovery while investigating a similar piece in the Litman hard times token collection (Presidential Coin and Antique Company #72, 12/6/2003). This merchant token,
lot 140 in the sale, was previously attributed to a J. B. Wilson in Indianapolis, but, based on the similarity to the Nicholson piece, Levine checked St. Louis city directories for the period.
Levine’s hunch was correct! He adds,
“Beginning in the 1853 directory, J(ames) B. Wilson is listed as a baker on Morgan Street between 7th and 8th. In the 1854-5 directory, the ‘James B. Wilson Bakery’ is at 186 Morgan Street and in
the 1857 directory, his business is listed as being at 134 and 136 Morgan Street. The 1857 listing is the last in which Mr. Wilson’s name appears.”
Based on Levine’s evidence, it seems certain the Wilson piece originates in St. Louis. The obverse legend of this token reads GOOD AT J. B. WILSON’S FOR, while the reverse is plainly BREAD. The
illustrations here from are TokenCatalog.com, courtesy of Mark Borckardt.
Did the Nicholson and Wilson pieces come from a common manufacturer? Perhaps so, but it is clear the reverse dies differ, for the Nicholson piece has an open wreath with bow, more closely
resembling the half dime, while the Wilson piece is a closed wreath with no bow. That both businesses were operated just a few blocks from each other seems more than coincidental. One wonders if a
Nicholson piece would have been accepted in payment at Wilson’s bakery, or vice versa. In any case, either of these will sell today for much more than a common date circulated half dime!
For more information on the Liberty Seated Collectors Club, see:
To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
WANTED: RESEARCH ON HALF DIME TOKENS (http://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v19n09a15.html)
SOME MORE HALF DIME TOKENS (http://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v19n10a17.html)
NICHOLSON'S HALF DIME TOKEN (http://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v19n39a21.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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