Dr. Sol Taylor

The Lesher Dollars

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, November 11, 2006

t was not uncommon in the 19th Century for various merchants to issue tokens that could be used for services or purchases — in other words, substitute for federal coinage.
    The practice was winding down throughout most of the country by the start of the 20th Century except in the West, where regular coinage was still in short supply and paper money was not especially popular with many vendors.
    In the gold mining town of Victor, Colo., Joseph Lesher issued a series of octagonal tokens in .950-fine silver for use as $1.25 coins in the area. He sold them to various business people whose names were included in the design of the token and used them as $1.25 coins when making change for gold coins — which were more common than silver coins at one time in these remote mountain areas.
    The federal government took exception to these privately made "coins" and ordered them withdrawn.
    How many actually were withdrawn, confiscated, or destroyed is not known. Today, only a very few of each type are known, and thus it is assumed most were melted.
    Adna Wilde of Colorado Springs had searched for decades in the area for these pieces and managed to find a few dozen of various types that were exhibited for some years in the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum.
    Today's catalog prices vary from just over $1,000 in slightly used condition to more than double that in mint condition. The 2006 edition of "The Standard Catalog of United States Coins" (aka "The Red Book") lists a total of 12 different varieties of the Lesher dollar, which is also known as the "Lesher Referendum Dollar." On one side it says, "Jos. Lesher's Souvenir" around the top rim and "1 oz. coin" in the middle with "Price $1.25 silver M'F'D Victor, Colo. 1900" below.
    The obverse shows a view of Pike's Peak, and below it is inscribed, "A Commodity/Will Give/IN EXCHANGE/Merchandise/at," with a space for the merchant's name and "No. __".
    All sold pieces had a number stamped in the space. The illustrated piece in "The Red Book" for A. B. Bumstead was numbered 1740 — meaning he ordered at least 1,740 pieces.
    As a series of tokens, Leshers are probably the most valuable; rarely does one even show up at a major auction. The 1901 A.W. Clark imprint is catalogued for $300,000 and is believed to be the only one of its type known. A few other rare types catalog for more than $10,000 each.
    It is believed that Lesher made at least 25 cents on each token and probably profited handsomely, considering he sold several thousand of these pieces in 1900 and 1901. The mines in Victor and nearby Cripple Creek ran out of gold some years later, and both towns fell into decay.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.