The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 47, November 19, 2023, Article 19


Greg Bennick's latest interview for the Newman Numismatic Portal is with token expert David Schenkman. Here's the third of six parts, where Dave and Greg discuss counterstamps. -Editor

Greg Bennick: Are the people who are discovering or connecting these counterstamps to historical sources, are they typically researchers, scholars and academics and coin experts? Or are they the average person who happens upon, say a token and says, You know what, my grandfather's uncle's cousin's sister owned that store and then making those connections that way?

David Schenkman David Schenkman: There's probably a little of that. But I think that collectors, if they have that collector instinct, no matter whether it's coins or tokens or paper money, when they get something that asks a question to them when they look at it, they want to find the answer. And that's how researchers are born.

Greg Bennick: Yeah, that totally makes sense. Okay, so along these lines, we've mentioned them in reference them a few times: counterstamps. I've become fascinated by counterstamps in the last year or so, and I actually purchased two really cool ones from you recently. But I wanted to talk about counterstamps a bit and pose the same question to you as I did just in case somebody didn't listen to the Bill Groom interview. And they're just coming into this for the first time and they don't have a sense of what counterstamps were or are. Could you tell us a little bit about counterstamps and then maybe we'll talk about some specific ones using the examples that I bought from you recently as examples for our conversation.

Sprague counterstamp obverse David Schenkman: Sure, to make a counterstamp, you take a coin, whatever the coin is, the host coin we call it, and you stamp something on it with a punch. That can be somebody's initial, it can be a name, or in the case of the desirable ones, they're stamped with what we call a logo type punch, which would be a single punch that will have the whole inscription on it. And the inscription might be Sprague and Blodgett's Georgia Minstrels Admit One which is on the half dollar, and that inscription was on a single punch. So when they punched it, it got on the coin. So merchants would issue counterstamps. They would get the punches, they could punch any coin that came through their till, and then circulate the coin back out into the world. And as it circulated, it served as an advertisement for that firm.

Greg Bennick: Pretty remarkable. And I know that the two pieces that I bought from you recently were fascinating because they could be connected directly to historical events and people from history who have biographical information available online and available out in the world. So, it's really different. And by different I mean people all the time will say, I wish this coin could tell a story as they hold say a seated quarter of some kind. I wish this coin could tell a story. Well, all of a sudden, with that counterstamp, the story begins to be told, meaning you mentioned Sprague and Blodgett's Georgia Minstrels. So one of the coins that I purchased from you was a half dollar, as you said counterstamped, Sprague and Blodgett's Georgia Minstrels. And I'll give you the opportunity first if you'd like to fill in the gaps for us, if you'd like to tell us maybe a little bit about Sprague and Blodgett, I've done some research recently. I'm happy to do it if you run out of facts for us, but I'll put that in your hands if you'd like to share a little bit about that.

David Schenkman: You go ahead because you just researched it. And I will say that I just completed an article for The Numismatist, the ANA's publication on numismatics of 19th century entertainers, and that includes counterstamps like that because those were both shows, minstrel shows, circuses that traveled from town to town and performed and hopefully made money. And there are a lot of counterstamps that were issued by these companies and there are a lot of other types of tokens. So the article I just finished, which is too large to run in one issue, so they're going to run it over two issues - I don't know when - but it'll talk about those counterstamps, other counterstamps and a variety of other types of medals and tokens relating to the same topic.

Greg Bennick: So what I found out after I purchased the counterstamp from you was that Sprague and Blodgett's was a Georgia minstrel show and by Georgia Minstrel that signified that it was an all-black cast doing a minstrel show, singing, dancing, vaudevillian type skits and whatnot that performed seemingly in Missouri in 1876 and 1877. And the coin that I purchased from you, as you mentioned, is stamped on the obverse around the periphery: Sprague and Blodgett's Georgia Minstrels, and then in the center Admit One. And that this was a piece that was used in order to have somebody gain access to the show.

Well, what I found fascinating was that if you do a deep dive into Sprague and Blodgett's show, you can actually find the names of performers that are assumed to have performed or known to have performed in the show. And then if you go a step further, some of these folks after the minstrel show was done and after the minstrel shows lost maybe the height of their appeal, they turned to film and other performing avenues. One of them in particular starred in a silent film that I watched the other night. So, I'm sitting there the other night and talk about if a coin could speak. I'm sitting there with the coin in my hand, which in 1876, 1877 would have gained me access to see a performer on stage singing. And as I'm holding that coin in my hand, I'm watching that same man now on screen in a silent film acting. I'm watching the actual man that I would have gained access to see by the coin that I held in my hand. That might have been the coolest numismatic experience I've ever had, and I've had some cool ones. That was pretty remarkable. So thank you for that opportunity. That was pretty amazing.

David Schenkman: Well, that's interesting, Sprague and Blodgett's were two men, Z. W Sprague and Wash Blodgett, and their partnership only lasted for three years from 1877 to early 1880. And then after they severed the relationship, Sprague continued to tour with his group as Sprague Georgia Minstrels. And the reason you always find that counterstamp on a half dollar is because it says admit one. Well, admission to the show was $0.50, so you could get in with any 50 cent piece. But somebody finding this might think that they had gotten something with a premium.

GREG BENNICK - 2023 headshot About the Interviewer
Greg Bennick ( is a keynote speaker and long time coin collector with a focus on major mint error coins. Have ideas for other interviewees? Contact him anytime on the web or via instagram @minterrors.

To watch the complete video, see:
David Schenkman Interview (

To read the complete transcript, see:
David Schenkman Interview (Transcript) (

To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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