What is it and What’s it Worth?

Do you know what the coin in this photo actually is?  Don’t mistake it for a penny! This is a lumber token. When you are cleaning out your change drawer, or you buy a jar of old coins, be sure to check for old trade tokens. 

The earliest lumber tokens date from around the Civil War. This token, dated 1863, sold for $60 in 2017.

Today we are featuring lumber tokens. Beginning around the Civil War, many lumbermills paid their workers in lumber tokens. These tokens could be used by the workers to buy goods in the company owned general store or commissary.  Our Worthopedia has over 8,000 listings for lumber tokens, and our WorthPoint library has 50 books listed on coins and tokens that you can read.  Dive in and take your coin knowledge to the next level.

History

Lumbering and the manufacture of wooden goods is one of the oldest industries and has been a critical component of society for millennia. Communities built up around lumber mills geared towards providing for the families of the millers and lumberjacks. Some mills were created to supply wood and wood products to local mines. This was especially prevalent in the coal mining regions of Appalachia.  Other mills were specialist companies, making furniture, staves, wooden boxes, and similar goods.

Token use in lumber camps and at mills was extensive and formed a small microeconomy of its own. Much like in mining camps, often the lumber mill was the primary employer in town, with the other local businesses in place purely to support the mill. In many remote lumber camps, the mill’s commissary became a hub of activity; a place for employees to gather, get their groceries and supplies, collect paychecks, or simply to socialize. Some lumber mills provided recreational activities for their employees, such as pool halls or arcades, many of which were designed to keep restive staff from hitting the local saloons in otherwise entertainment-starved camps.

The heyday for token use by lumber companies was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This lumber trade token from the early 1920s sold for $78.03 in March 2019.

The earliest lumber tokens date from around the Civil War and were often just advertising pieces serving as cent substitutes rather than for use at a company store.  The heyday for token use by lumber companies was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During this period, the tokens served several purposes in addition to providing a medium of exchange in remote and often cash-strapped regions. For companies that paid their employees by piecework, they were used as checks to be redeemed on designated paydays, while others took the coal mine scrip model and employed them for use at company stores usually as a form of advance on a paycheck. Others still were used for entertainment at company-provided billiard parlors.

What to Look For

Unlike with saloon tokens, lumber token specialists do not necessarily require the word “lumber” to appear on them and instead could have “stave,” “planing,”   or some combination thereof on the token. Other companies indicated their final finished products, such as furniture or boxes/crates, though retailers of these products are not considered lumber tokens per se. Many more businesses gave no indication of their lumber connection, making researching business directories and contemporary newspapers key to its identification as a proper lumber token. Tokens without such notations do not necessarily bring the highest prices among lumber token collectors, though overall rarity and indication of a town name will have their own impact.

Some companies indicated their final finished products, such as furniture or boxes/crates, though retailers of these products are not considered lumber tokens per se. This token from a chair manufacturing company sold for almost $250 in 2013.

Most lumber tokens were made of brass, nickel-plated brass, aluminum, or various cupro-nickel alloys. Rarely, bimetallic tokens made of aluminum with a brass ring were also used, though because of the expense in manufacture, these are not as common. Only a few companies selected celluloid for their tokens because they did not stand up to wear as well as metal. The designs were utilitarian; most are simply inscriptions indicating company name, town, and denomination, though a comparatively few were pictorial. Some companies ordered their tokens through system scrip manufacturers such as Osborne Register Co. (Orco) of Cincinnati or Ingle System of Dayton who used a standardized design and size for use in specialized dispensing machines.

Every now and then, the tokens would have a mistake, as can be seen in this token. The wording should be “Asher Stave & Lumber Co.” This token sold for $28.57 in 2013.

Every once in a while, a token maker would make a mistake or a typo on the token;  “State” instead of “Stave” in the company name, for example. Some of these errors were caught but most times the tokens went into use regardless. While interesting, they seldom affect the price or rarity.


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