Guest Post: Trade Tokens

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Tokens have been issued in every state in the Union and most territories before they achieved statehood. So, wherever you live, there is a specialty available in the tokens of one’s own locality.

Tokens of the West were started simply due to the lack of coins. Prior to statehood, coins in the Montana Territory were scarce. With little or no protest from the federal government, private companies had tokens minted for them to be used for change. Tokens generally were not redeemable for cash, only credit for drinks, cigars, candy, and general merchandise. Additionally, tokens were used by company stores to extend credit to their employees, farmers, and ranchers. Generally, you could not spend it anywhere else but at the issuing merchant, and this guaranteed repeat customers. This was a general rule. Many businesses accepted other merchants’ tokens. In many towns, local tokens were used as coins and were widely accepted.

The period of 1866 to about 1900 is referred to as the Saloon Token Era in the United States. Hundreds and hundreds of varieties were issued beginning about 1875. Montana Saloon tokens generally lasted until prohibition started, January 1, 1918. Prohibition in the rest of the U.S. started January 1, 1920. These are general dates because many counties or towns enacted their own prohibition laws locally prior to state or federal regulations. Saloon tokens have denominations such as 1 drink or 12 1/2 cents. These are highly sought after by many collectors, and are thus valued higher. For years, beer was 5¢ and a shot was 15¢ or 2 for 25¢. When paying 25 cents for a shot, customers were often given the option of receiving 10¢ change or a 12 1/2¢ token. This gave the proprietor a chance to get some free advertising and, once again, guaranteed a repeat customer.

Types of companies that made used trade tokens:

  • Arcade / Amusement
  • Barbers, Billiard / Pool Hall
  • Bi-Metals
  • Buffets
  • Cigars / Segars
  • Bakeries
  • Confectionary / Candy / Sweets
  • Dairies / Creamery
  • Druggists
  • Hotels
  • Ingle System Manufacturer
  • Mercantiles / Merchandise
  • Saloons
  • Sample Rooms
  • Soft Drink Parlors
  • Smoke House / Shops
  • Trading Companies.

    Where did the trade tokens end up at. That’s the million dollar question. When businesses failed or traded owners, the original owner wanted to destroy the tokens so as they wouldn’t be found and reused. Many went into the fire place. One common method was to throw the tokens into an outhouse. Many ended up in the bottom of the local river. In Butte Montana, one group ended up in a cement sidewalk. After many years, the sidewalk had to be removed and they were discovered. If you ever see a trade token from Butte, with small pieces of cement on it, its most likely from this hoard.

    Where to find Trade Tokens. Coin shops, antiques stores, junk stores, private collectors; but nothing beats finding a lost token in the ground. Tokens are valued from $3.00 to over $5,000.00 each. The most valuable tokens generally come from small town that only had one merchant who issued tokens. Saloon and Territorial tokens are the most desirable and demand higher prices. Some of the tokens are valuable enough to be counterfeited. Small chance of that happening if you find one with your metal detector! .

    Several guys were metal detecting in Gilmore Idaho. They found a poolhall token that was unlisted or unknown. That same day they found a Bannack Montana token. Last year a Montana token was found in Southern Nevada. These tokens did get around. Who knows what you will find where!

    If you ever find a Montana token and need additional information on it go to: http://users.gobigwest.com/rmrubick/. This site has hundreds of Montana trade tokens pictures, contacts, and general information. Additionally a Montana Reference manual will be available soon. If you are lucky enough to dig an Idaho or Oregon token, the site also has links to Idaho and Oregon token web pages.

    Author: Roy D. Rubick
    Born: Butte Montana
    MT Tech Graduate
    Living in Idaho, Married, Children, Cat
    Hobbies: Metal detecting, Collecting Montana & Idaho Tokens – Presently writing a Montana Token Reference Manual (http://users.gobigwest.com/rmrubick/)

    Always willing to help identify a token and always looking for someone to go detecting with in Montana.

    Incoming search terms:

    • m a hardin napier
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    • in trade only pat apr 7th 1914 values
    • roy rubick
    • ingle maverics tokens
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    • RUBICK tokens
    • roy rubick montana tokens
    • relic hunt in lynchburg va
    • oregon trade tokens

  • 12 Responses to “Guest Post: Trade Tokens”

    • Robert A Perry Says:

      YOU DID GOOD ROY i AM PROUD OF YOU YOU DO HAVE THE TOKENS I gave you in your collection don,t you???

    • John Says:

      I’ve seen mention of ‘maverick’ tokens, that do not list state information on the token. If the city is listed, but the state is not.. is it still a ‘maverick’. Also, do you have any resources for getting info on maverick tokens (guides, etc)? I’m also curious.. are dates ever printed on tokens?

      thanks
      John

    • M. Paul Says:

      I’ve never spoken about a token until now. I love your website BTW. What a great name, Roy Rubick, any relationship to the Rubick’s Cube?

      Thanks much! ( Just a token of my appreciation)
      M. Paul

    • Roy Rubick Says:

      John – A maverick is a token with no state or town. If the town is listed it is commonly referred to as a town token. TAMS (Token and Metal Society) doe have a maverick listing (it covers true mavericks and town tokens) available for members. However the numbers of mavericks with attribution is low. There are thousands which have been identified, but there is most likely thousands and thousands that don’t have a positive identification (yet).

      Everyone else – thanks for the kind comments.

    • DKJ Says:

      Great job on explaining the history of tokens. Keep up the good work and looking forward to more communication with you in the future.

    • J M Says:

      Roy, I didn’t even think yuz could read, but now yuz done and proved me wrong again. Great Job!

      Shifty

    • Roy Rubick Says:

      Dated tokens are very rare. There are several with dates though.

    • Derrick Murphy Says:

      What kind of information are you looking for in regards to tokens? Are you looking for history, or just dimension/denomination of tokens. I have a few Montana tokens. I’ve found a few advertisements in old newspapers with the token shop listed in the ad.

      Derrick Murphy

    • Roy Rubick Says:

      Derrick, I have most of the tokens denominations listed and sized. I’m always looking for ads and history (and tokens not listed). Drop me an email with some specifics and I will add to the book. Thanks, Roy

    • Beale Carter Says:

      i found a token this past weekend. I was hunting in my town at a old house. The token was found in the front yard near the sidewalk.

      It is a bus token. The buses stopped running in this town over 40 years ago. On one side it reads: M and B Transit Lines Inc Burlington NC. On the other side it reads: Good for one fare.

      It was a big thrill to see it in the hole. By best find yet. Oh yea I started metal detecting last week, Beale.

    • mike polkinghorn Says:

      i found a w.h. kruse in trade token has 50 on front and in trade on back with ingle system and pat. approved date any info on this would be great

    • Roy R Says:

      Sorry, I don’t believe that it is Montana or Idaho, where I specialize on. I would recommend that you do a goggle search on Ingle system tokens. Good Luck, Roy

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