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The History of Civil War and Hard Times Tokens

Part of the draw of coin collecting is collecting items that reflect the history of their time. Ancient coins from Greece and Rome help cast a glimpse into millennia past. Similarly, coins from early American centuries also are steeped in amazing history. Civil War coins and hard times tokens are especially interesting.

If you have ever wondered about why Civil War and hard times tokens are traded and collected for such a high value, here is a brief history to help you understand the role of these tokens during American history.

Civil War Tokens

Often prized by collectors, these tokens acted as stand-ins for government currency during the Civil War.

Hoarding and Inflation

As is common during times of war, precious and semi-precious metals became more and more valuable, and inflation began. As tensions escalated between the North and South in early 1862, clever investors anticipated that gold, silver and similar metals would become worth much more than their coin value.

The increased inflation in metal prices caused an increase in currency inflation. To protect against this inflation, it became necessary to save aggressively. People began to hoard their coins instead of spending them.

Of course, this inflated the value of the money that still remained in active circulation, prompting even more people to begin saving instead of spending. If a one-cent coin was suddenly worth the equivalent of five cents, it would be better to save it than to spend it (at least in the short term). Gold and silver were also not used for trade.

Economic Impact

With no coins in circulation and with inflation rising, any new coins the government minted were quickly snatched up as well. In order to cap the inflation rate and force the use of already-minted coins, federal production of coins was halted as the Civil War continued to escalate the demand for resources.

Fewer and fewer coins were being used, and by the end of 1862, hardly anybody would use coins to buy or sell. Business owners needed the ability to sell goods and services, but without any coins to trade, commerce would have come to a standstill.

Creating Tokens

To help solve the problem of doing business without currency, merchants released tokens that mimicked small change. The most common tokens were very similar to the penny in size, and they would be printed with the words, “For Public Accommodation,” or “Not a Penny.” People would exchange these tokens for goods and services.

These coins were made of metals that were not in demand. Lead, copper, brass and even rubber were used to make tokens. These tokens are now valuable collectibles, especially those that are made from rarer materials (most common tokens are made from copper).

No Longer in Use

After just under two years, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864. This act discontinued use of these tokens. Despite their short period of use, millions were made across the Northern States. Making non-minted coins became illegal, with steep fines and prison time for violators.

Because of their unique American history, Civil War tokens are a valuable addition to any coin collection.

Hard Times Tokens

These tokens are older than Civil War tokens and also represent a time of economic unrest in United States history. Even though the country was not at war during the time these coins were minted, there was a period of “hard times,” which is why these tokens bear this name. Under President Andrew Jackson, the country was experiencing a severe economic downturn.

Similarly to Civil War times, during the time of these tokens, people began hoarding coins. This time, however, they hoarded currency because the banks stopped issuing coins and bills. Private mints took up the task of providing currency.

Hard times tokens are unique because they often contain unique pictures and sayings. Some of them worked like store cards, redeemable for whatever was pictured on the coin. Coal, grains and other staples were common on these material-specific coins. Services like hotels or carriages also traded these coins.

Coins often had political messages. For example, for abolitionist hard times coins, a common motif was a slave in chains with the phrase, “Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?” This coin was meant to make people think about slaves as equal human beings.

Hard times coins are very attractive to coin collectors because of their sheer variety. Different pictures, slogans, metals and years make these tokens a rewarding and compelling historical study. Because they are not exactly rare, collecting hard times tokens is still an affordable pursuit, making them perfect for people who are new to building historical coin collections.

If you find either of these tokens in your search for coins, we can appraise them and help you discover more about their history. For more information about finding coins, tokens, and other collectibles, contact us at Rocky Mountain Coin.