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The John J. Ford Collection
Stack's, June 23,2004

Introduction to Hard Times Tokens By George Fuld

[Stack’s engaged George Fuld, the doyen of tokens collectors, to introduce and catalog John Ford collection of Hard Times Tokens. What follows is largely George’s work, for which Stack’s extends their thanks.]

Hard Times tokens represent an unusual period in the financial history of the United States. President Jackson, in his campaign of 1832, was vehemently opposed to the Second Bank of the United States. This central bank in Philadelphia was said by opponents to control the money supply in favor of the wealthy merchants. Populist Jackson vowed to abolish it. The bank issued its own currency, which quickly became the most stable paper money in the land. It exercised considerable control over credit and interest rates throughout the country. When Jackson was reelected, he tried to abolish the bank. Finally, in 1837 he succeeded in accomplishing his goal. In the meanwhile, the president of the bank, Nicholas Biddle, tightened the money supply, which then lead to a financial panic. Other banks issued paper money with little or no gold or silver backing and quickly folded. By 1837 over 100 banks had gone under. The small change necessary for commerce began to disappear. Tokens were issued to solve the needs of the public. They were frequently political or satirical in nature. The tokens of the period 1832-1844, when Van Buren became president, are classified as the Hard Time issues.

Research on these tokens dates back to 1847, when C.P Serrue published an article in Revue Belge. However, this romantic article was filled with misstatements. For instance, Serrue stated that Van Buren was a native of North Brabant, and was born at Bois-le-Duc. This was no doubt new to Americans, who had been taught that he was born at Kinderhook, N.Y. on December 5, 1782. Later, Alexandre Vattemare published an article in the 1864 volume of Revue Numismatique in Paris which contained two plated titled “Numismatique des Etas-Unis d’Amerique, Pieces Taractiques.” He compared the issues to the 18th century Conder tokens of England and the French Monneron tokens which were in their time circulating emergency money.

The first American study of Hard Times tokens was published by Charles Bushnell in 1858, and was followed by an article from J.N.T. Levick in 1870 in which he described 56 identifiable pieces. Lyman Low issued his first pamphlet in 1886, in which he listed 96 tokens, a forty piece increase. Low revised his listing in the American Journal of Numismatics in 1899. Next he reprinted it separately in 1900, listing some 164 pieces, 68 more! A further supplement by Low in 1906 brought the total to 183 pieces and corrected errors in the previous text. This listing by Low is still the centerpiece of the Hard Times series research.

Russell Rulau, starting in 1980, issued a pamphlet discussing the tokens and added some 200 pieces with pseudo low numbers which were issued in the correct time period. In this seventh edition in 1999, he renumbered all the pieces, arranging them in a more logical order. Patriotic and satirical pieces are listed first, followed by store cards by state of issue. His numbering system, although logical, has not replaced the Low numbers for the original 183 Low varieties. In the cataloguing to follow, Rulau numbers are given (as HT-) for each issue along with the Low number. Where appropriate, the DeWitt listing (from his A Century of Campaign Buttons) is also noted. All tokens are in copper unless otherwise stated.

The John Ford collection is the most complete public offering of these pieces, comprising some 169 varieties based on the initial 183 piece list. Subvarieties and unknown new pieces are not included in this basic count. Two of the original 183 Low listed pieces do not really exist – Low 137 and Low 144 (errors in listing by Low himself). The existence of Low 90 and 91 is also in question.

The basis of the Ford collection was the acquisition of F.C.C. Boyd’s holdings. In 1944, Boyd purchased all the non regular coinage issues from Wayte Raymond, who in turn had already acquired the entire Hillyer Ryder collection. Most pieces from the Boyd Estate are ex Ryder, Raymond published a listing of the Hard Times Tokens in the 1940 edition of the Standard catalog of United States Coins and reprinted it in his 1942 edition. Where possible, token in the Ford collection that are actual Raymond plate coins are noted in the lot descriptions (Raymond used photographs of many tokens from the Boyd collection for his illustrations.) Starting in the 1950’s another major collection of Hard Times tokens was formed by Donald Miller of Indiana, PA. Miller’s collection was acquired by Dave Bowers and before he resold it, John Ford was allowed to take what he needed to upgrade many of his pieces. Many of Ford’s pieces are ex Donald Miller.

In the later 20th century only nine public auctions of the Hard Times Tokens included more than 130 different Low numbers. Those include:

Gilbert Steinberg, Stack’s 1989, 158 different.
Michael Brand Zeddies, B & M 1990, 144 different
Mixed consignors, PCAC 1999, 143 different
Charles Litman (Don Miller’s Duplicates), PCAC 2003, 140 different
Herbert Oechsner, Stack’s 1988, 136 different
Mixed consignors, J. Leidman, PCAC and B & M 1986, 136 different
John L. Roper II, Stack’s 1984, 133 different
Roy Harte Part III, B & R 1983, 132 different
The Landmark Sale, PCAC 1976, 132 different

One notable collection, the estate of George L. Tilden of Worcester, Massachusetts, was formed in the nineteenth century and was eventually purchased by Donald Miller. Some Tilden pedigrees are noted as also ex DuPont. DuPont was a member of the Boston Numismatic Society in the 1950’s and might have been an intermediary when Miller purchased the Tilden collection. These pieces were offered individually in a fixed price list by Kenneth Rendell in the late 1950’s that contained 154 different pieces. The Dr. George Hetrich collection ws sold via auction intact in one lot (comprising approximately 160 tokens) by Pennypacker Auctions in the early 1960’s to Donald Miller.

The Donald Miller collection was then sold intact to Steven Tannenbaum who resold it to Q. David Bowers in the 1980’s. It comprised 169 tokens, including a Low 54a and Low 161 (J. Cocran, Bellfounder). The Miller collection was sold to a Long Island collector after John Ford took what he wanted.

It is important to note that Edgar Adams issued a set of 15 photographic plates of Hard Times Tokens about 1920 (this rare pamphlet was reprinted by Charles Kappen in 1955). There was some duplication, but 172 of the 183 tokens were illustrated. Tokens not on the Adams plates are Low 1, 50, 88, 90, 91, 119, 147, 157, 161, 170 and 179. Seven of these tokens missing from the Adams plates are in the Ford collection!

Low Numbers 1 through 165 through 172, 179 and 183 are patriotic tokens without specific merchant names. The balance of the classic series of tokens, Low Numbers 72 through 164 and 173 through 182 (except 179) are store card merchant tokens.

(Stacks, the John J. Ford Collection, Part IV, June 23rd, 2004)

Copyright © 2004-2010 Alan S. Fisher. All rights reserved.
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