In 1924 Hetrich and Guttag published a catalog listing some 6000 varieties of civil war tokens. In it Dr. Hetrich observed that “the small coins, known to collectors as tokens, issued during the Civil War, have been neglected in the past, and have not received the attention of the collectors, which they deserve. They represent a very important period of the history of our country, and should receive more attention from American collectors for this reason, if no other... An interest in these pieces is soon aroused and easily maintained, and it will not be very long before one discovers that the addition of a new variety to his collection will be attended with as much satisfaction as the acquisition of a new variety of the more pretentious series of United States coins.”
My own interest in patriotic civil war tokens arose quite by chance. Two decades ago, while browsing through the classified section of Coin World, I came across an advertisement for civil war tokens and decided to order a few, more out of curiosity than anything else. I soon found myself captivated by these tokens and the period in American history which gave rise to them. The turbulence and tumult of that time is etched on these tokens. Some proclaim “Peace Forever”, “Concession Before Secession”, and “Millions for Contractors, Not One Cent For the Widows”. Others promise that there would be “No Compromise with Traitors”, “Liberty and No Slavery” and, regarding the American flag, “If Anyone Attempts to Tear It Down, Shoot Him on the Spot”.
In the late 1950's Melvin and George Fuld (father and son) published a guide book which utilized a highly flexible method for identifying patriotic Civil War tokens. They tagged each patriotic die with a unique number (currently ranging from 1 through 537). And to indicate the metal type they used the following letters:
a – copper
b – brass
d – copper-nickel
e – white metal
f – silver
g – lead
j – german silver
So, for example, 9/85a represents a token with an obverse using die #9 (a phrygian capped liberty head), a reverse using die #85 (an indian head) struck on a copper planchet (letter type ‘a’).
The Fulds applied a modified version of Dr. Sheldon’s rarity scale for estimating the rarity of civil war tokens. The level of a token’s rarity ranges all the way from Rarity 1 with an estimated 5000 or more tokens in existence to Rarity 10 with only one token known.
R-1 Greater than 5000 (very common)
R-2 Between 2001 and 5000
R-3 Between 501 and 2000
R-4 Between 201 and 500
R-5 Between 76 and 200
R-6 Between 21 and 75
R-7 Between 11 and 20
R-8 Between 5 and 10
R-9 Between 2 and 4
R-10 Unique (1 only)
In terms of this rarity scale, the much publicized 1895 silver dollar would be considered quite common. Even the renowned 1804 silver dollar, with 15 specimens known, would at best rate a Rarity 7. It's not unusual for a decade or more to pass between the offering of some rare dies and others I have never seen offered for sale.
My intention is to complete a collection of what I believe to be most significant rarities in the series. This is likely an unattainable goal, but the fun in collecting is in the hunt for those oft-times elusive tokens, in the knowledge gained in the study of these emergency coin substitutes, and most of all in the friendships formed with fellow collectors and dealers who share a common interest in these mementos of the American Civil War.
Additional information on Civil War tokens can be found on the website of the Civil War Token Society www.cwtsociety.com
Over a dozen new tokens have been added from the collection of the late Steve Tanenbaum, a good friend whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for Civil War tokens was unsurpassed.
A collection of the rarest dies and tokens in the series.