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The History of US Civil War Tokens

The Civil War was an extremely difficult time for America as a country and the people living during that period. The country was on the verge of tearing itself apart in a North versus South war that was fought over issues such as slavery, and economic policies. Among other interesting things, these tough times spawned coins known as “civil war tokens.” These tokens were various forms of “private money” – not federal money – that was used in the Northeast and Midwest.

During the Civil War, cents were very scarce and valuable. They became scarce as people started hoarding them, not for their monetary value, but their intrinsic value. In those days, cents were made of gold, silver, or nickel. Businesses depended on cents being transferred between themselves and their customers so to fix the problem, many began to simply get private minters to mint coins for them to use. The first Civil War token was minted in 1862 by a Cincinatti minter named H.A. Ratterman. Soon, there were over 900 different varieties issues from Ohio alone. By the end of their run, Ohio had issued 1300 different variations of tokens.

Just two years later, there were some 25 million Civil War tokens in circulation and there were somewhere around seven or eight thousand varieties. The most famous of these were store cards known as “Lindenmueller tokens” named after a New York man named Gustavus Lindenmueller. He was a barkeep who had more than a million tokens minted, mostly used as fares for streetcars. When the streetcar company asked Lindenmueller to redeem the tokens, he refused, but the company could take no legal action against him. After these tokens, there were the Knickerbocker tokens. There were between 600 and 700 varieties of Knickerbocker tokens issued from New York City.

There are three separate types of Civil War tokens – store cards, sutler tokens, and patriotic tokens.

Store Cards

Store cards were similar to patriotic tokens except that they had the name and location of a privately owned business etched onto them. Some stores that were well-off could even afford to have their information etched on both sides. There were over 8,500 different store cards in circulation at one time, and they came from 1500 different merchants from 22 different states and nearly 400 towns.

Sutler Tokens

Meanwhile, Sutler tokens listed the name of a particular army regiment or unit instead of that of a business as well as the name of the sutler who served them. A sutler is a private merchant who provided the regiment with provisions.

Patriotic Civil War Tokens

Patriotic tokens were tokens that had some sort of patriotic etching on one or both sides. Slogans included things like “The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved” or “Old Glory.” Others also had images of the flag on them. The most famous type of patriotic tokens were known as “Dix tokens.” It was named after John Adams Dix, Secretary of the Treasury, who in a letter to a Lieutenant told him, “If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” The Dix tokens had this quote etched onto them.

Eventually, civil war tokens were outlawed, but during the time they were in use, there were many different varieties.

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