by Dennis Tucker
I’ve got something to vent about.
Your article in the January/February 2019 issue of the Token and Medal Society’s TAMS Journal (“Merchant Token Ephemera From Wiley, Kansas”) makes me feel like I’ve been asleep for the past 15 years as a writer and researcher.
Thanks a lot! Just when I was starting to feel like I knew something about numismatics.
Seriously, though—this excellent article should be required reading for everyone who collects U.S. coins, especially those of the 1700s to mid-1900s. The concepts you spell out are vital to understanding American coins and paper money, day-to-day commerce, credit, and what life was like for millions of Americans for many generations.
The real-life case studies you present, and sharing interesting stories from your own family history, make it a fun read as well as educational.
“As we move further away in time from firsthand experience with the use of trade tokens,” you write, “we lose touch with the mechanics of their use in local economies.” If coin collectors don’t have that knowledge, they’re missing a big piece in the puzzle of American numismatics.
This reminds me of conversations I had with Ken Bressett years ago. We were struggling to make room in the Red Book for listings of the Mint’s expanding programs of commemoratives, silver, gold, and platinum bullion, and other modern coins. Near desperation, I was tempted to dramatically condense the “Private and Territorial Gold” section. I’m embarrassed now, in retrospect, that this was my reasoning: “How many people actively collect these pieces? Hundreds? Maybe a thousand?” (out of the hundreds of thousands of readers who buy a Red Book every year).
Ken set me straight, reminding me that for a good amount of time, in a large section of the United States (or what would eventually become part of the Union), during a significant era of national expansion, these private and territorial gold pieces were extremely important to American life—they were how business got done.
Thus it is the same with trade tokens. Your article, like Ken’s shared insight, is a valuable reminder of, and education in, the huge importance of America’s non-coin “coins.”
Thank you for writing it, and thank you, as always, for sharing your wisdom.
This “Viewpoint” was written by Dennis Tucker, a publisher at Whitman Publishing and an award winning numismatic researcher.
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