As noted in my Numismatic Diary elsewhere in this issue, Eric Schena recently acquired a great little token relating to the Labor Exchange movement in the
United States. He submitted this article summarizing his preliminary research. Thank you! -Editor
One of the various "less well traveled" numismatic paths that I have taken a great liking to of late have been scrip issued and used by the
various branches of Giovanni DeBernardi's Labor Exchange. The Labor Exchange movement was a progressive collective movement in the 1890s that spread
throughout primarily agricultural and rural areas of the United States and used the concept of bartering goods for labor, a direct response to the bimetallism
question and the Panic of 1893. The Labor Exchange largely died out by c. 1905, but left behind a number of numismatic artifacts behind, primarily in the form
of standardized series of paper scrip denominated in hours of labor and fractions thereof.
A recent listing on eBay intrigued me considerably, an aluminum token good for 5 minutes of work. The token was ostensibly associated to the Labor Exchange,
so I bid and subsequently won the piece. The token is an aluminum piece 21mm in diameter and has a delightful representation of the globe on both sides. The
obverse legend reads MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE FOR FIVE MINUTES WORK ***** and has a map of the Western Hemisphere while the reverse reads MAY BE REDEEMED
ON RETURN TO GABRIEL Z. WACHT * and has a map of the Eastern Hemisphere.
I have been researching this piece to get further details on Wacht as well as if it really was a part of the Labor Exchange, but have only come up with some
rather intriguing but unfortunately non-definitive tidbits. Gabriel Zacharias Wacht was born sometime in 1833 most likely in Stockholm, Sweden and emigrated to
the US, apparently to Northampton County, PA. He also served in the Civil War, joining in Jan.25, 1865 then mustered out on July 27, 1865. Details are sketchy,
but he seems to have moved around a bit, before settling in San Francisco in the late nineteenth century, then finally in Sawtelle, then an independent city
near Los Angeles.
Sometime in the 1880s, he joined the Free Love movement headed by Moses Harman centered in Valley Falls, KS. Harman was a freethinker and suffragist who
desired to see women's emancipation from sexual slavery and published a radical underground newspaper called, Lucifer the Light-bearer. Wacht, then
living in Boston, wrote a letter of support in the 3 December 1886 issue of Lucifer indicating his desire to enter into a marriage along the lines of
the Free Love model. By 1891 Wacht moved to San Francisco where he himself wrote a pamphlet, Catechism on the Science of a Universal Religion, which was
distributed through Harman's publishing houses (I have not been able to locate a copy, unfortunately). Wacht made a living as a watchmaker in San Francisco
at least according to 1891 and 1892 city directories. In 1910, Wacht was very much still a part of the Free Love movement and even placed the following
personal ad in a 1910 issue of The Humanitarian Review:
Wanted Lady Companion: Is there among the readers of The Humanitarian Review a healthy and honest but homeless and friendless woman who would like to
adopt a vegetarian diet and come and make her home with me for mutual cheer and care? I am an old man and a veteran of the civil war and have only my home and
a pension of $20.00 per month on which to depend for support. Address: Gabriel Z. Wacht, at 202 Ohio ave., Sawtelle, Los Angeles Co., Cal.
It is not known if he found his companion; Wacht died on 30 December 1911 and is buried in Los Angeles.
One fascinating postscript to the Wacht story comes in the form of an article in the Madera, Cal. Tribune on 12 March 1923 headlined "Big
Mystery for Devil Dogs." The newspaper had received a query from some U. S. Marines - "Devil Dogs" - stationed in San Francisco. One of the
Marines, Sgt. Harry Ervin, found a "small medal" in the stomach of a shark that was harpooned off the coast of Mazatlan in Mexico in 1914. While the
article does not mention what the medal was made of, it does describe it:
"Issued by Gabriel Z. Wacht, San Francisco, California, 1891" reads the outer circle of letters on one side of Ervin's medal. In the center is
a small enameled floral design surrounded by eight stars and the words: "To Uncle Sam for value received." On the other face of the disc appears the
numeral five. Around the dial are the words: "Medium of exchange of five minute service. Standards of measure average time."
The very last paragraph says it all and the questions remain as valid now as they did in 1923:
Who was Gabriel Wacht? Why did he make a strange medal that acknowledges an indebtedness of some sort to Uncle Sam? How did the medal find its way into the
digestive tracts of a shark? If anyone can answer these questions: "tell it to the marines."
At least one other Wacht medal or token is known. In the "Mavericks" column of the April 1971 TAMS Journal, the following piece is
2084. RETURN FOR REDEMPTION TO GABRIEL Z. WACHT / (globe of Europe, Africa and Asia)
Reverse- EVIDENCE PF CLAIM TO ONE HOUSE SERVICE / (globe of North and South America)
28mm, silver, round
The reverse legend likely is supposed to read EVIDENCE OF CLAIM TO ONE HOUR'S SERVICE given the similarity to the medal found in 1914 and the token I
recently bought off of eBay.
Given Wacht's association with the social progressive movements of the nineteenth century, there is a possibility he had some sort of association with
the Labor Exchange. More research is certainly required into this wonderful token. I would love to hear from other collectors and researchers who might have
more information on Wacht or similar tokens.
Thanks, Eric! Great research. Much more is yet to be learned about these pieces and their issuer, but this is a great head start. Who can help? The entire
Labor Exchange movement is ripe for a thorough numismatic research treatment. -Editor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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