The Use of Seated Imagery in Numismatics
North America





Coin Details

Origin/Country: United States
Item Description: NY 1863 NEW YORK F-630AM-1a CHRISTOPH KARL
Full Grade: NGC MS 64 BN
Owner: coinsbygary

Owner Comments:


There are coins in this set that are difficult to describe, and this 1863 store card is one of them. That said I intend to convey the little I known about Christoph Karl in my owner comments. Then taking into account the historical context of this token, I will give a plausible explanation of the allegories present on this beautiful token from New York City featuring Germania, the national personification of Germany.

Due to the hoarding of hard currency during the Civil War, merchants issued tokens and store cards in lieu of coins for use in their stores. Most of those tokens included the name of the store and its merchandise right on the token. Other tokens were political in nature. However, this token gives only the name of the proprietor and the address of the business in New York City.

After numerous Google searches I found two sources stating that Christoph Karls business was either a liquor store or a saloon. I also found that Christoph Karl was born in Bavaria in 1824 and that he immigrated to the United States sometime between his birth in 1824 and 1859. In the following paragraphs, I will offer a theorem as to how and when Christoph Karl came to the United States using the allegory illustrated on this token.

Originating in France, a wave of nationalist political uprisings against the reigning autocracies erupted across all of Europe in February of 1848. The revolutionaries had hoped to usher in a new era of democracy and social reform in Europe. Instead, particularly in the German Confederation (1815-1866), the revolutionaries met with defeat. Their failure to effect social change not only left the old order intact but probably strengthened it.

Following their loss and fearing for their lives many of the revolutionaries fled their homes to start anew in other countries. With the nickname Forty-Eighters, thousands of Germanic people immigrated to the United States. Many of those immigrants settled in the northern states due to their objection to slavery. I believe that Christoph Karl was among the Forty-Eighters settling in New York City.

The obverse of this token features Germania seated close to a body of water with hills in the background. She is stretching her right arm over the land in an altruistic, calming manner. Behind her is the standard of the German Confederation with the tincture matching that of the black, red, and yellow colors of the German Confederation flag. The shield is representative of the German Confederation arms with a double-headed eagle against a yellow background. Germania is wearing a more generic mural crown as opposed to a royal or imperialistic crown of a king or queen. At the base of the shield are oak branches representing strength and independence. Above the shield is the hilt of a sword showing a readiness to fight if necessary. The reverse features a harp representing harmony or perhaps unity. An oak wreath surrounds the harp with a radiant five-pointed star at the opening reminiscent of the approved, but not fully embraced, 1848 German Confederation Coat of arms.

Not deterred by their earlier failures, I believe many of the Forty-Eighters took up the battle against the autocracies of Europe from their adopted homelands. Being a naturalized American citizen, Christoph Karl could now exercise his right to free speech without fear of reprisal. The lack of hard circulating currency during the Civil War was the perfect opportunity for a proprietor like Christoph Karl to continue to speak out against the reigning autocracies of the German states. Thus, I believe, given the absence of the business name on this token, that it be numbered among those tokens making a political statement. Coins and tokens are excellent mediums in which to promote political causes. With the likelihood that a number of Germanic people and those sympathetic to the cause would frequent Christoph Karl’s establishment, this token was likely effective in promoting the vision of an independent German state.

The picture substituting for the reverse of this coin’s owner comments is an 1848 painting of Germania. The standard in the picture is that of the liberal nationalists and the rays of a rising sun is the beginning of a new era. Germania’s crown of oak leaves denotes heroism, her breastplate, strength, her sword, power, and the hemp branch a willingness to make peace. At Germania’s feet are broken chains, symbolic of being set free. To the right of Germania is the 1848 German Confederation Coat of Arms. Notice the similarity between the star on the token and the picture. The arms are very similar in meaning to the imagery of the harp.

One of the things I find interesting concerning Germania is the way differing groups manipulated her for their own purposes. For instance, the revolutionaries were using the imagery of Germania on this token to promote their cause, while on the other hand the Prussians with the 1871 Victory Thaler manipulated Germania to strengthen Emperor Wilhelm’s status. These two positions could not be more opposed to one another.

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