Early "Good For" Trade Tokens- Metal Detecting the Unknown Collectible
Board of Trade- Leadville
Colorado Merchant Trade Tokens- The Project
Back in 2002, I decided to take on the task of writing a book, a two year project. It was winter in Colorado and I was bored out of my skull! As a metal detector user, I occasionally was lucky enough to unearth a trade token. Many times these were found in long abandoned ghost towns. As soon as I found one, I would run to my copy of Colorado Trade Tokens written by Wright and Nott somewhere around 1978. This was considered the bible of Colorado Trade Tokens. The only problem was that half (no exaggeration) of the tokens I found were not listed in the book. Many people I knew whined about the need for an updated book so off I went.
Deciding on a format, gathering the information, and getting the thing published and out was a chore. I interviewed collectors, joined clubs, kissed babies, shook hands, and travelled on a train from coast to coast to taut my project. Oh wait. That was the election. I just did the first two. I get carried away when I write. Token collectors can be a quirky bunch. Being that many of these are one of a kind and worth more than many valuable coins, collectors get very secretive about what they have. With each additional token of the same kind, the value often drops.
The rest of this hub is taken pretty much straight out of my book. I am not plagiarizing. i gave myself permission to use it. HUBBOSSES PAY ATTENTION. This is original writing!
Tokens in more than one form
What are trade tokens?
Trade tokens have been used as a form of exchange for hundreds of years. They can be thought of as a private form of currency. In Great Britain, tokens were common from the time of Elizabeth I until the reign of George III when the steam coin press came into use and coinage could be produced in greater quantities.
Early British tokens were produced by large employers to pay small change wages. They often carried the face value of coins of the realm but were inscribed with pictures and/or the name of the issuing business or individual. Most were made of durable metal.
Lead tokens, very common during the 17th and 18th century, could be produced by smaller landowners and often featured the initials of the landowner and some type of a landowner symbol or insignia. Although it isn’t known for sure, popular thinking is that these tokens were given to the farm workers as a tally of work performed and may then have been redeemed for coin of the realm or goods and services.
Trade tokens became widely used in the US somewhere around the time of Andrew Jackson's presidency and enjoyed popularity into the 1930’s. They were used by saloon keepers, grocers, cigar stores, pool halls, confectioners, and many other businesses. Token manufacturers would often come into a town and take a number of different business orders. Small towns may have several businesses with tokens with very similar characteristics as a result.
Trade tokens served several purposes for the business owner who distributed them. They were a form of currency when coinage was scarce. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s drinks often sold for 15¢ or 2 for 25¢. Many times, patrons would stop in on the way home from work for a quick one. By pricing two for a quarter, the saloon owner could insure a return visit or would profit when the token was not redeemed at all. Further, these were a way to advertise the business.
Values of Trade Tokens.
The old adage of “It is worth whatever someone is willing to pay” could never be truer. There are a number of things that drive token pricing. These are some considerations.
The type of business issuing the token. Saloons are very popular, especially if the word saloon is on the token. This is followed by billiard or pool halls and cigar tokens. Grocery, dairy, and general merchandise tokens do not seem to, on average, carry as high a value. Many collectors specialize in the fraternal organization tokens such as the Elks and Eagles.
The type of metal and shape of the token has some small effect on pricing. The brass tokens seem to generally be more in demand than the aluminum tokens. Round tokens are the most common, with some collectors specializing in scalloped, square, or rectangular tokens.
Tokens that name the city and state usually sell at higher prices than “mavericks” which are tokens without the city and/or state listed. Attributing these maverick tokens can be difficult and time consuming but, once done, may have a dramatic effect on the selling price of the token. A good example in Colorado would be a Board of Trade token. Colorado hosted several Board of Trade saloons all over the state. One token with a listing of “Board or Trade / 25 / J H Samson” can be attributed to the Jim Samson, the original owner of the Board of Trade Saloon in 1879 in Leadville, Colorado. The Board of Trade has a colorful history including being a popular hangout for Doc Holliday when he was in Leadville.
This brings up the next pricing variable; location. Towns and cities with a rich history generally bring better prices. Old Colorado mining towns such as Ouray, Silverton, Leadville, Central City, and Cripple Creek are very popular with collectors. In addition, some states command additional premiums. The western states including Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Nevada, are highly collected.
Finally, the rarity of the token comes into play. Unlike coins that were often produced in the millions, tokens were usually printed in the hundreds. Many were destroyed after redemption, further decreasing the numbers. Many tokens have only one known or reported example in the literature. Such rarity has a dramatic effect on pricing especially if more than one purchaser has a deep pocketbook. Recently a token from Vulcan, Colorado sold at auction for over $1200. This would be the equivalent pricing of a 1916-D Mercury dime in XF condition.
The ending thought on pricing is this. If a collector wants a piece, they may pay a very high price. It usually takes a second collector with deep pockets to drive that price higher. Once the needs of those collectors are met, pricing could settle down to a much more reasonable and predictable level.
Do You Have a Trade Token Hidden Away?
Opportunities are few and far between to be able to collect such a rare item for an affordable price where even the most prevalent tokens may number less than one hundred. Tokens are becoming more and more popular. You have the opportunity to own “the only known example” of a token. Many people specialize. I recently corresponded with a collector from Arizona who collects one token from every town in Colorado. Another collects tokens by specific manufacturers, no matter what state.
In Colorado, there are many towns that existed during the hey-day of tokens that are not listed. One collector's desire was to find a token from an unlisted town. I, myself was lucky enough to find a token from an unlisted town of Bucktown which is now covered by cinders from a processing mill. There are a number of unlisted towns
So why did I write this hub. I am sure there are many people out there that have cigar boxes that grandma and grandpa left you that you never have picked through. I wanted you to know what you may have. There are many types from modern gaming tokens like those used in game machines at Chuck E Cheese and transportation tokens used for trolleys and trains in days gone by. You may even have some old coal script from a long gone coal town or a tax token from the 30s when gas was rationed. What ever you do, have fun. Show them off. Teach people about the history behind the towns.