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Local tokens

Posted: June 29, 2012 5:22 p.m.
Updated: July 2, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Tokens were small cardboard, brass, copper or aluminum items, usually in the shape of coins, which were issued by private enterprise ventures such as textile mills, merchants, etc. These items took the place of coins and were redeemable at the issuing entity. A study of these items reveals much about the history of S.C. and its counties.

Background on S.C. tokens

The “Granddaddy” of all S.C. tokens is the 1837 R. L Baker soda water token from Charleston. It is the only S.C. token known from a series of tokens collectors call Hard Times Tokens. Only a few other S.C. tokens from antebellum times are known. All were from Charleston and often were “store cards” handed out as advertisements by merchants.

When the Civil War began, gold and silver coins soon were hoarded. The Confederacy did not mint coins due to scarcity of metal to do so. Instead, the Confederate government issued fractional paper currency in place of coins. The same scarcity of metal kept private enterprise entities in the South from issuing very many tokens and S.C. entities from issuing them. Some tokens were issued in the North, however.

After the Civil War, S.C. had to cope with all the political, governmental, economic, social and religious problems and turmoil created by the war and the emancipation of slavery. The period after the Civil War became known as Reconstruction.

It was well into the 1880s before the state had somewhat recovered economically from the Civil War and Reconstruction. As a consequence, there were very few tokens issued during the 1870s-1880s. In this period only a small number of enterprises likely to issue tokens had gone into business, enterprises such as textile mills, large merchants, etc.

Heyday of S.C. tokens

In S.C. the heyday of token issuance was 1890s-1940. After WWII, only a couple of textile mills and a few transit companies issued them. Besides tokens from textile mills other enterprises issuing them were sea food packing companies, vegetable canneries, drug stores, dairies, general stores, military bases, banks, bakeries, school cafeterias, furniture companies, prisons, shoe shops, fraternal organizations, billiard parlors, finance companies, bottlers, grocers, contractors, fruit dealers, jewelers and confectioners.

Absent from the above list is the word, “saloon.” During much of the token era heyday, the S.C. and County Dispensary systems, 1893-1915, the Gallon-A-Month law, 1915-1920 and National Prohibition, 1920-33 prevented saloons from operating in S.C.    

The aspects of the private money system of tokens for the convenience of employees when banks or other stores were some distance away and for the convenience of businesses not to have large sums of money at the business, mill, etc, are laudable.

However, the system had some serious drawbacks

A company store had a monopoly. This often resulted in prices to their employees being higher than the going rate. This practice gave rise to the expression, “I owe my soul to the company store.”

In the last few years, some chain store companies have attempted to reestablish the “company store” to a degree with their store scan cards. If one registers with the chain, he receives a scan card that entitles him to a lower price on all designated items in their stores. If you do not have their card, you are charged a higher price. In effect, they have created a card worth money, a private monetary system that ties the card holder to the store.

If you would like to learn more about S.C. tokens, read Tony Chibbaro’s South Carolina Tokens published in 1990 followed by supplements in 1995, 1999 and 2004.

Kershaw County tokens

Blaney -- J. S. Guy, Jr. operated a saw and shingle mills in Blaney and in 1908, issued a round aluminum token with a 50[cents] in the center.

Camden -- H.[arry] Baum operated a large plantation west of the Water River ca. 1900 and issued cardboard tokens which were redeemable at his plantation store. One of his tokens is stamped “Good for 25 cents in toll.” This token may have been used at the plantation grist mill to pay for grinding corn instead of “tolling” or taking out an amount of corn to pay for the grinding.

There is another possibility. Maybe Baum had an arrangement with the owners of the bridge and ferry whereby he distributed tokens to pay his tenants’ toll for crossing the Wateree River.

The Bel Shaw or Belle/Shaw dairy operated east of Camden by 1904 but was closed by 1925. The first name on the aluminum token they issued is not legible but it likely is “Bel” or “Belle.” The token was “Good for one pint” at the dairy.

The city Transit Company of Camden issued a nickel token with a picture of a bus which was good for one fare.

The Camden Drug Co. from about 1910-30 issued aluminum 5-cent tokens.

G. W. Crosby operated a billiard parlor and cigar store in Camden ca. 1910-20 and issued an aluminum 5-cent token

The Irwin Hermitage Co. Inc. is thought to have operated the Hermitage Mills company store in the 1940s. They issued a copper 10 [cent] token good at the company store,

The Hermitage Cotton Mills Store issued an aluminum token good for 1 cent in merchandize at the company store.

S. D. Hurst operated a general store in Camden between 1914 and 1925. He issued 10 and 25 [cents] and $1 brass tokens.

The Haile Gold Mining Co. issued tokens and was included in Kershaw County by Chibbaro in his token book although the mine was actually in Lancaster County. Presumably he placed it in Kershaw County due to the original owner, Benjamin Haile, being from there. The tokens are aluminum and were good for 5, 10 and 25 [cents] at the company store.

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