Book Reviews
Annual Coin Show
Contact us



P. J.   ANA 126469

Reprinted from NENA News, Vol. 54, No.2

Hard Times tokens are privately issued mostly copper large cent sized tokens that were produced from 1833 to 1844. To me this was a fascinating period of US history because:

• The political parties were just sorting themselves out.

• It was the adolescence of America—the Jacksonian period before the civil war.

• The US banking and financial system was growing up.

• And it shows you how a correctly set banking and financial system is so important and how unwise fiddling can cause depressions.

In addition to the fact that I’m interested in this period of U.S. history, I also collect Political Hard Times tokens because

• They are a diverse but short type set, which are far more interesting to me than large cents.

• Since they are the size of large cents, they are big enough to see (unlike half-dimes, small cents, etc. that are like collecting microscope slides!).

• They are rare but inexpensive because they are not marketed and are little sought after.

If you would like to collect this series, here are a few suggestions.

As with any series you need to get the standard references, get acquainted with the coins (in this case tokens), check the prices, and decide which tokens you want to collect and how much you are willing to pay for them.

The first standard reference was Lyman H. Low’s 1899 Hard Times Tokens which included 183 types. To this day Hard Times Tokens (HTT) are still cataloged by their Low numbers. Russell Rulau reorganized Low’s work, applied about 500 new numbers, included a pricing guide and a lot of important history that explained the historical significance of a lot of the inscriptions, legends and devices.
His 1996 sixth edition (the last to be issued as a separate volume) may be obtained from Krause publications. His eighth edition is contained in the Third Edition of the Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 (also from Krause). In addition, the Red Book includes illustrations and values of 30 different HTT.

HTT may be classified broadly into political tokens and store cards. Rulau classifies tokens into:

1. Pieces referring to the Bank of the United States and the controversy surrounding it.

2. Pieces with political and satirical slogans and images.

3. Pieces which closely resemble large US cents.

4. Store cards or advertising pieces.

5. Die mulings (unusual obverse and reverse die combinations.)

I do not collect the non-political store cards and prefer the following classifications:

• Heads, which are included in 1 or 2 above but that have a recognizable picture of a politician on the token.

• Ideological—the other tokens included in 1 and 2 above.

• Evasion pieces—tokens covered in #2 above that resemble U.S. large cents.

Die mulings are included in the above in whichever class seems to fit most closely. Using this identification, the attached list of 25 tokens forms a type set of political HTT: Click here for list.

Thus a complete type set can be bought for about $550 in VG, $1400 in VF, and $2800 in EF. Even in EF if the 5 most expensive tokens are bought in lower grades a type collection would only cost $1700. The chase will probably keep you entertained for at least a couple of years. The investment will be a sleeper, a non-hyped series that one day could take off.

It is impossible to review here the stories behind every HTT because there are so many of them. But a few stories may whet the reader’s appetite for political HTT.

Low 51. I take the responsibility/ The constitution as I understand it

This is an example of a political head token portraying Jackson emerging from a money chest holding both a sword and a money bag. This expressed contemporary fears that it was dangerous that the executive could control both the army and the treasury.

Contemporary cartoonists liked to portray Jackson in full military regalia or dressed as a king with a crown and flowing ermine robes. (Interestingly the Whig party was named after the British anti-royal party because Jackson was too autocratic and behaving like a king.) On the one hand Jackson was obstinate and autocratic, and his followers were constantly carping on about how he won the battle of New Orleans. On the other hand he was somewhat clumsy in speech and poorly educated. Cartoonists portrayed him as a Jackass not Jackson. He married Rachel Robards before she was divorced, and had to remarry her after her divorce decree—equivalent in those times to the Monica Lewinsky affair! He even killed several people in duels defending her name!

With this background it is easy to see why, when Harvard gave him an honorary LL.D., he was portrayed as a Jackass with an LL.D. on its side.

“I take the responsibility” is what Jackson said when he put the Bank of the United States funds into 25 pet state banks. “The Constitution as I understand it” was his explanation of why he took the anti-federalist stance of putting the money into State banks. Roman firmness was a jibe of the day to describe him. The word VETO below the Jackass referred to his veto of the third bank of the United States. Clinton was certainly not the first president who liked to use the power of veto!

Low 18. Executive experiment/ I follow in the footsteps

This is an ideological token without a head. The ‘executive experiment’ was Van Buren’s sub-treasury idea using a fiscal agent. The tortoise carrying the safe meant the democrats could never get the Bill through congress. On the reverse is a line from Van Buren’s inaugural speech when he said, “I follow in the steps of my illustrious predecessor.” Contemporary cartoons showed Van Buren behind a Jackass stepping in its hoofprints!

Low 55. Loco Foco/ Mint Drop

In 1835 in New York a Democratic convention was held. Opponents planned to scuttle the convention by extinguishing all the gaslights. But the Democrats got wind of this and came armed with matches. The name of the matches was Loco-foco (‘place of fire’). For a while after, the Democrats were called ‘Loco-focos’.

The ‘Mint Drop’ drop reverse has nothing to do with peppermint, but with the US Mint. It meant hard currency Benton was a southern pro-hard-currency senator who talked about the virtues of hard currency so much they used to call him “Old Bullion”!

If this has whetted your appetite for a diverse, historical, good-story-behind-each-piece series, get Rulau’s book, and next time you go to your favorite dealer or to a show you will spend less money and get more fun. Enjoy it!
Back to top
Back to Articles