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US Hard Times Tokens, Not One Cent



Hard Times Tokens are named after the economic depression that began in the year 1837 which is often referred to as the Panic of 1837. Their story however starts at the beginning of the 1830's. Before we get into the story behind their creation though, we should first discuss the requirements a token needs to meet to be classified as a Hard Times Token. Hard Times Tokens were privately minted in the United States between the years 1832-1844. They typically are about the same size as a US Large Cent (27 mm to 29 mm in diameter). Most are also nearly identical in weight to that of a Large Cent and they are generally made of copper. They circulated during the time period of 1832-1844 and afterwards as well. During their period of use Hard Times Tokens were accepted at the value of one cent. Sometimes people refer to Hard Times Tokens using the name "Not One Cent". You'll find that several of these tokens are marked with the term "Not One Cent". The origin of the term is not quite clear. It's been suggested that the term is simply just a descriptive phrase used to express a quality characteristic of the item that it refers to. Some suggest that the term "Not One Cent" is a humorous allusion to the manner in which the tokens were struck.

Scholars estimate that there are over 600 different known varieties of Hard Times Tokens. Since these tokens were minted privately some information about them simply just doesn't exist. The US mint, from its very beginning, always kept very detailed and carefully accurate records regarding the minting of each coin they ever produced. Generally speaking, private mint companies don't keep records like that. So, we don't know for sure the exact number of each variety that were minted or even if we have discovered every variety out there that was ever minted. Hard Times Tokens can essentially be grouped into three general categories: satirical and political pieces, merchant advertising pieces, and tokens that closely resemble the regular federal issued large cents of that time. Some people group the pieces referring to the Second Bank of the United States and the different varieties made from die millings into their own sub groups as well. A basic understanding of the era's politics and history of the events of the time period is necessary to understand how these tokens came to be and the meanings behind the legends and designs that are found on them. It was a fascinating period in history. A period of complex transition for our country. America was essentially in its adolescence. In my opinion it is one of the most interesting time periods in America's history, second only to that of the birth and infancy of our country. The different political parties were just sorting themselves out. The US banking and financial system was in a period of growth and development. There was also rapid growth occurring in the west. It was a time of both opportunity and economic risk for our great nation. A time for expanding horizons and self-discovery. The management of the ever growing economy was inseparable from political conflict. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill that would have re-chartered the Second Bank of the United States. It was a rather bold move. Some of the public certainly supported his decision. The Second Bank of the United States tended to act unfairly by favoring its interests in the north. This move however led to an interruption in the supply of currency that was in circulation. Cash to meet the daily needs of the people was hard to come by, especially small change for petty expenses. The country had been experiencing a shortness of small denomination coins since the colonial period, despite the best efforts of the US mint. The Constitution provided the federal government with exclusive power to coin money. It also allowed for the chartering of banks by individual states and these banks were permitted to issue currency notes of their own. The state banks lacked safeguards against risky loans and the value of their banknotes fluctuated wildly. In 1836, President Andrew Jackson issued the Specie Circular executive order that required all payments for government land to be paid in gold or silver. The government did not want people making purchases with state issued paper currency that lacked hard money backing. A number of factors contributed to the Panic of 1837. Most which occurred during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson and during the time when Martin Van Buren served as Vice President. Van Buren was only a few weeks into the office as President of the United States when the Panic began. He received a great deal of the blame from the American people for the Panic though. Hard times spread throughout the nation. All over the country people withdrew their funds from their banks which fueled the spread of the Panic. People were also hoarding coins. The supply of copper coins was thinning out. Without coinage in the hands of people, commerce would have come to a complete standstill. Private mints responded by developing and creating Hard Times Tokens. Shopkeepers and merchants bought these tokens in bulk at less than the value of one cent per each token and then would give them out to their customers in change at the value of one cent each. Satirical or political Hard Times Tokens contain some unique pictures and sayings. Their illustrations and legends illustrate the public's frustrations with the federal government and the President of the United States. Sarcasm was a favorite weapon of the time and employed without mercy to accomplish its desired task.

The 1834 Hard Times Token pictured above was dug by Donnie Bailey. The Whig Party which opposed the closing of the Second Bank of the United States, issued tokens like this one. On its obverse side, it has an illustration of a boar and the legend "Perish Credit, Perish Commerce, My Victory, My Third Heat Down With The Bank". The reverse has an illustration of Andrew Jackson and the legend "My Substitute For The U.S. Bank Experiment, My Currency, My Glory". The word "my" continually appears in the legends. It's believed that the use of the word "my" references Jackson's use of dictatorial powers. It has also been suggested that the boar may represent Jackson's fiscal policies running wild and causing havoc in the country.

The Hard Times Token pictured above was dug by Ed Rifenberg. On the obverse side is a phoenix, the date Nov. 1837, and the legend "Substitute for Shin Plasters". On the reverse side of the token is the date May 10, 1837 and the legend "Special Payments Suspended".

Chery Huxhold also dug a Substitute for Shin Plasters Hard Times Token. It is pictured above. The date May 10, 1837 on the reverse side of the token refers to when the New York banks suspended specie payments. Banks in New York City had run out of gold and silver. As a result they suspended all specie payments and no longer would redeem their commercial paper currency notes at full face value. The date Nov 1837 refers to a convention that was held in November of 1837. Representatives from banks of 19 states attended. It was an attempt to restore financial order in the country.

Wally Armstrong Jr. dug the Hard Times Token pictured above. Unfortunately, the ground wasn't very kind to it. There's just enough details left though to identify it as a Nov. 1837 Substitute for Shin Plasters token. The legend "Substitute for Shin Plasters" references the often worthless paper money that was issued and distributed by banks. The backing of these paper bank notes was no stronger than the financial credit of the issuer. Most of them had no financial value and were basically only good for stuffing your socks to keep your feet warm in the winter.

Pictured above is another Nov. 1837 Substitute for Shin Plasters Hard Times Token. This one was dug by Peter Teal. It is believed that the image of the phoenix rising from flames, found on the obverse side of the tokens, symbolizes that the paper money was only fit to be burned. The phoenix that rises from the aftermath of fire, from its ashes, has served for a long time as a symbol of rebirth. It is also serves as a symbol of great hope.

Dan Yarrusso dug the Hard Times Token pictured above. Its obverse side has the Nov. 1837 Substitute for Shin Plasters design. It is paired with the Millions For Defence, Not One Cent For Tribute reverse. The phrase "Millions For Defense, Not One Cent For Tribute" became popular in America when President Thomas Jefferson refused to pay after the French demanded tribute from the U.S. in exchange for not attacking American ships. In 1837, there were still many Americans that remembered the slogan and In the the year 1837, the American people could relate perfectly to the slogan and it's rallying cry of outrage.

The Hard Times Token pictured above was dug by Tony Mantia. Its obverse side imitates that of the US Braided Hair Large Cent that was in circulation during that time period. The reverse of the token has the legend "Millions For Defence, Not One Cent For Tribute". The spelling of defense may look strange but that was the proper spelling for the word at that time.

Dave Wise also dug a 1837 Millions For Defense Hard Times Token. It is pictured above. Like Tony's, its obverse features the head of Liberty with the date below and the legend "E Pluribus Unum" and it's reverse has the legend "Millions For Defence, Not One Cent For Tribute". It is one of the most common Hard Times Tokens that was made.

I dug the satirical Hard Times Token pictured above. It is frequently referred to as the Jackass Running Token. It shows a tortoise on the obverse and the legend "Executive Experiment". On the tortoise’s back is a treasure chest, representing the funds of the United States of America. The inscription "I Follow In The Illustrious Steps Of My Predecessor" and an illustration of a Jackass is on its reverse side. The phrase was said by President Van Buren at his inaugural address.

Dave Wise dug the Bentonian Currency Hard Times Token pictured above. Its obverse side imitates a US Braided Hair Large Cent. Its reverse side has the legend "Bentonian Currency" and the word "Mint Drop". The word "mint drop" means hard money and the term "Bentonian Currency" refers to Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a supporter of President Jackson’s hard money policies.

I dug the 1841 Hard Times Token that is pictured above. Its the first Hard Times Token I ever found. Its obverse has an illustration of a ship marked Constitution, in calm waters, surrounded by the legend "Webester Credit Current". There are several different varieties of Webster Credit Hard Times Tokens. They represent Daniel Webster who was an advocate of renewing the charter of the Second Bank of the United States. Its reverse side has the legend "Millions For Defence, Not One Cent For Tribute".

Ed Rifenberg found the 1841 Webster Credit Currency Hard Times Token pictured above. Its obverse side features a ship with the word constitution on the side of the ship, and the legend "Webster Credit Currency". Its reverse has the legend "Van Buren Metallic Currency", the date 1837, and a ship named Experiment in a stormy sea of rough waters, in the midst of a thunderstorm, that got driven into rocks. Merchant Hard Times Tokens consist of advertising pieces for various different businesses. They were especially popular in the states of Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

The Hard Times Token pictured above is a merchant issued token that was produced by Samuel B. Schenck, a machinery manufacturer located in Massachusetts. It was dug by CTTodd. It is a advertising piece which features Woodworth’s new Planing Machine. and describes in detail its capabilities. The obverse side has the text “Woodworth’s Patent Made by S.B. Schenck, Attleboro Mass. Planing Machine.”. The reverse side of the token has the date 1834 and the text "Machine is Capable of Planing, Tonging, Grooving, or Joining or Rabbiting, 18 Feet of Boards or Blank in a Minute".

Gino DiCarlo dug the Hard Times Token pictured above. The obverse side features the Merchant's Exchange building that was located on Wall Street, in New York City. The building was built in 1827 and burned down in the Great Fire of New York in the 1835. The Millions for Defense reverse appears on this token as well.

Matt Episcopo also dug a Merchant's Exchange Hard Times Token. It is pictured above. The Merchant's Exchange building was supposedly fireproof but burned down in the year 1835.

CTTodd dug the Hard Times Token pictured above. The obverse side features the original Merchant's Exchange building. The reverse side has the legend "New York Joint Stock Exchange Company" and in the center is the wording "No. 6, Tontine Building, Wall St.". The Exchange building was the heart of commerce in NY City for a generation.


Steve Evans found the 1836 merchant issued Hard Times Token pictured above. It was an advertising piece for Robinson’s, Jones & Co. Button Store, in NY. The obverse of the token shows an image of a woman sitting on a throne surrounded by a shield, eagle, sceptre, and ship, and has the words "American Institute New York". The reverse side says "Copy of a Medal Awarded to Robinson’s Jones & Co, For the Best Military, Naval, Sporting, & Plain Flat Buttons".


Kirk Adams also dug a Robinson’s, Jones & Co. Button Store Hard Times Token. It is pictured above. This token was produced by the Scovill Manufacturing Company in Waterbury, Connecticut.


The Hard Times Token pictured above was found by Doug Mockler. Its obverse side has an illustration of a clock and the legend "Time Is Money". The token's reverse side has the wording "Smith's Clock Establishment, No 7 1/2, Bowery New York" and the date 1837.


The 1837 George A. Jarvis Wine & Tea Dealer Hard Times Token was found by Donnie Bailey. Its obverse side features Lady Liberty's Head and the legend "E Pluribus Unum". The reserve has the text "George A. Jarvis, Wine & Tea Dealer, 142 Grand Corner Of Elm Street New York".


I dug the 1837 merchant issued Hard Times Token pictured above. It is an advertising piece from Centre Market. The obverse of the token has a liberty head bust, and the legend “E Pluribus Unum”. The reverse side shows the building that is being advertised and the words “Centre Market Accommodation, 14th Ward N. York.”


Gino DiCarlo dug the Hard Times Token pictured above. It's a merchant issue token from the W.H. Milton & Co. Clothing Store. The obverse side reads “Cloths, Cassimeres & Vestings, Boston, W.M.H. Milton & Co Merchant Tailors No.s. 4 & 6 Faneuil Hall”. The reverse side says “Faneuil Hall Clothes Warehouse, An Extensive Assortment of Fashionable Ready Made Clothing.”


These next two tokens I decided to include even though I think they are technically Presidential Campaign Tokens and not Hard Times Tokens. They are often identified by many people as being Hard Times Tokens though.


Dave Wise found the token pictured above. Its obverse side has an illustration of Martin Van Buren and the lettering "M. Van Buren". Its reverse side has an image of an eagle and the legend "Independent Treasury, July 4, 1840". In 1840, Van Buren tried and failed to be elected to a second presidential term.


Steve Evans dug the 1840 General William Henry Harrison token. The obverse side has a bust of Major General William Henry Harrison and the reverse side has an Eagle and banner reading "Tippecanoe". William Henry Harrison won the Presidential election. He served as the ninth President of the United States for a total of 31 days during the year 1841. He was the first president to die in office and he also served the shortest term as a US President ever. Hard Times Tokens have a special place in history. These tokens represent a time of economic unrest within the United States of America and the resourcefulness of Americans. It was a strange moment in history for money. As soon as financial conditions started to improve and more coins began circulating, Hard Times Tokens started to disappear from circulation all together. These tokens contain unique and witty pictures and sayings. Each one of them has their own interesting story to tell. I appreciate them for their historic and artistic value. I hope you enjoyed reading this. Have a great week!

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