Standard Catalog of Hard Times Tokens 1832-1844.
Book Review by Jan M Dyroff
Russell Rulau, Editor. Iola:Krause Publications, 2001. $29.95.
It may be hard to believe, but this is the ninth edition of this most noteworthy book. It addresses a segment of the numismatic history of our nation that often gets lost in the dazzle of MS-65 silver dollars. Namely, that despite the best efforts of the Federal Mint, there was a shortage of small change in the period just before the Civil War.
This shortage opened a niche in the numismatic ecology, into which went cent-sized store cards, which were forms of advertising, as well as what are called Hard Times Tokens (which are pretty much defined by era of issue as well as subject matter.
Perhaps the best-known examples of this series are those items, which are political or satirical in nature. These focus on the activities of Andrew Jackson, and his followers and detractors. They touch on the issues of a central bank for the nation, which generated a series of “paper hard times tokens.”
The Introduction to the volume tells, I believe, all that might wish to be known about this series. The information is presented in a clear and cogent matter, which is impressive for am essay dealing with a subject as convoluted as the whys and wherefores of these pieces.
Of particular interest are some of the accompanying table of data – a good and practical rarity scale, a list of diesinkers and token manufacturers active in the period, and, where relevant, the last sale and selling price of the token.
While some of the illustrations are a bit muddy (and it would be easy to admit the difficulty of getting good depictions of some of the tokens), overall the graphic quality of the book is praiseworthy. This is particularly true in Appendix III, which deals with the methodology of William S. Cox, Sr., to determine the identity of die makers. This theory rests on the notion that a sinker had limited repertoires of letter punches, which he used for a variety of products.
A number a pages of photographs are devoted to pictures of tokens or of their aspects (legends. Details of eagles, variations in design) are enough to bring out the forensic detective in the numismatist.
Russ Rulau has been recognized as the preeminent cataloger of American tokens. Since the first edition of Hard Times Tokens was published in 1980, his books on tokens and medals have won three gold, three silver and two bronze Cataloging Medals of the Token and Medal Society (TAMS), as well as four top book awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild. In 1993, he was awarded the CLEMY, the highest award of the Numismatic Literary Guild. In 1995, Mr. Rulau was awarded the Medal of Merit of the American Numismatic Association, and in 1999 he was named a Fellow of the prestigious American Numismatic Society.
In truth, this is just the type of catalog you would like to see for other branches of numismatics. The book hones in on a very specific topic, plumbs it to its depth, and tells what must be told with clarity, conciseness and wit. It belongs in the library of everyone interested in American numismatics or history, or of the Americana from when our nation was new.
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