Dr. Sol Taylor

The 'Bible' of United States Tokens

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, December 22, 2007

he monumental task of publishing a catalogue of United States Tokens fell to Russell Rulau and Krause Publications in the 1970s. Combining the existing publications of various types of tokens of the time, Rulau put out the first edition of the "bible" of United States Tokens, officially known as "The Standard Catalogue of United States Tokens 1700-1900."
    The third edition (1999) contains 1,140 pages and is broken down into various categories, based mostly on the time frame involved. The sections include: Early American Tokens, Hard Times Tokens, U.S. Merchant Tokens, U.S. Trade Tokens, Civil War Store Cards, Civil War Cardboard Chits, and Tokens of the Gay Nineties.
    A token as defined by Rulau and generally used by the Tokens and Medals Society (TAMS) is a metallic substitute for government coinage. There are gray areas between tokens and medals, and many such fuzzy tokens such as love tokens may be included in the general token category.
    Because of the diversity of the category, Rulau specifically omits such items as amusement tokens, hard rubber cards, shell and mirror cards, military tokens, telephone tokens, transportation tokens, political or campaign tokens, and prison tokens.
    I am pleased to be listed as one of more than 250 contributors to this great work. I managed to locate about a dozen pieces not previously known to Rulau when the first edition came about around 1980. Each edition adds dozens or more new finds. In many cases, the catalogue values are based on the most recent (if available) auction or price list values.
    In the merchant token category, many pieces are U.S. coins counterstamped with the name or initials of a person, firm or product.
    Some counterstamps are test punches often used by jewelers testing their marks on coins before stamping their silverware. Some merchants stamped almost every coin that passed through their business, and these stamped coins acted as additional advertising. Some better-known stamps are "H.M. Whitebeck's Circus," "Gold Pile Salve," "Dunk the Druggist," "William Idler," "Scovill Manufacturing," "J.L. Polhemus" (a Sacramento druggist) and "China Tea Company," among hundreds of others.
    Under each token listed, there is a brief identification of the origin of the stamp and four catalogue values based on condition. For many pieces only one grade is listed, since there may be only one specimen known.
    The famous "EB" counterstamp of Ephriam Brasher on various foreign gold coins is highly desired and catalogues for thousands of dollars each. His stamp on his gold coin designs have brought well over $1 million each. His "EB" punch on a silver spoon or fork can bring several hundreds of dollars at a public auction.
    In the Civil War token section, there are some 8,000 types and varieties listed in the reference book by George Fuld on the subject. Rulau devotes some 18 pages to illustrations and text of the major varieties. Otherwise this catalogue would be more than triple in size.
    Early token catalogues, and token dealers provided, much of the data used in the text. Such dealers and collectors as Maurice M. Gould, John Adams Bolen, Julius Guttag, Farran Zerbe, Dr. George Fuld, Edgar H. Adams, Charles W. Betts and David E. Schenkman, among many others, provided monographs, booklets and articles on tokens — all of which were referenced in the catalogue. The estate of Maurice M. Gould yielded a wealth of material in the two mail bid sales I conducted in 1976 and 1977.
    Catalogues of the 1970s by Richard Hartzog yielded information on many pieces, both common and rare. The editing of all these sources and auction results come together in the current presentation.
    No collector of tokens would be complete without a current edition of Rulau's "bible." In fact, just about every coin dealer maintains a copy at hand to check out that unusual token included in a coin lot — in some cases exceeding the value of all of the coins.
    In two major token sales by Heritage Galleries in the past year, some high-grade tokens brought record prices, not only because they are rarely seen for sale, but also because they are rare in mint condition.
    For further reading, see my column, "Tokens Fetch High Prices at Auction," Oct. 7, 2006.

    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.