What's It Worth? Tokens and American History

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What's It Worth? Tokens and American History


At various times during our country’s illustrious history, private entities have issued tokens to be used by their own clientele, or in the case of local government, by their citizens.

In the past couple of months we have seen an inordinate amount come through our doors. Many gold tokens were legal tender in California and were called California gold tokens. They came in many shapes and sizes and were called fractional because they were worth a quarter or a half of a dollar. They are very lightweight and their gold value is less than $10; but they always bring a premium and sometimes a great deal more than their gold weight value.

In the row below, the piece at left is a privately minted gold token. It doesn’t have ‘dollar’ inscribed next to ‘1/2,’ which typically makes it a token and not legal tender. The second coin is a California gold token that is actual legal tender. Even though it is very damaged and there is a hole in it, we paid $40 for it and have it on sale for $65. Many companies made them for legal tender rather than for promotional purposes. Third from left, we have a sample of private label copper tokens. Many were issued during the Civil War with patriotic motifs and are valued at between a dollar and $10, with some rare ones in the thousands. The fourth coin is a token issued by a commercial retailer who would give them as change instead of cash – to be used in his store some time in the future. These vary in value from $1 to hundreds of dollars.

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Comments, questions or suggestions for this column, please send to jeffreyphess@aol.com.

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