The numismatic world is vast, indeed. In this series on Exonumia, we are taking a look at the numismatic items that are not coins. Coins are struck by governments for the purpose of conducting business transactions. Tokens are struck by private individuals or businesses for the same purpose, but represent a specific amount of money already paid for specific goods or services. Anyone can make a token, and for a time, it seemed that almost everyone did. Whether it was for parking a car, getting a shoe shine, riding a bus, or even some “adult” activities, tokens were in use for everything that one could think of, and more. Now, in the digital age, tokens have mostly been replaced by gift cards and paper receipts, but at one time they were in use all over the place. The most common were transportation tokens. Virtually every city in the US had them. Have you seen some? “Good for One Fare,” might ring a bell.
These days, collectors enjoy an exciting world of discovery as they hunt around coin shows and the internet to uncover their next new find. Most tokens cost only
a few dollars, and finding an interesting new addition to one’s collection is relatively easy. Some collectors have a specific focus such as transportation tokens, 19th century tokens, non-metallic tokens, gaming tokens, and one of the most popular, brothel tokens. As with all areas of numismatics, doing a bit of study will aid you greatly in your collecting. There are many good books on specific niches, but there really is no resource indicating the totality of the token universe. After all, since anyone could make tokens, no really knows who made them, or how many of each were made. Counterfeits do exist. Many of these exist in the colorful world of the Old West. If you see tokens for a shot of whiskey, or graphically depicting sexual acts, they are probably NOT authentic. The authentic tokens from the world of vice were typically very discrete usually displaying only the name of a person or business.
Gaming tokens and casino chips are very popular collectibles, and are rather easily researched and authenticated. They are so popular, in fact, that they fall into they own category in the exonumia realm. Although primarily made of non-precious material, many are silver or even gold.
For the collector interested in the upper end of the token market, you’ll be pleased to know that certified items are available. Many are from the 19th century, and help tell the story of what life was like during a particular time period. Most commonly resembling a penny, the tokens from the Civil War are the most popular 19th century tokens among collectors, and some fetch prices well into the thousands of dollars.
Thank you for reading this installment of Tokens in our Exonumia series. In the next installment, we will take a look at coin art.