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Louisiana Trade Token Articles
  • Lumber Mill and Sawmill Tokens
  • Cotton & Sugar Plantation Tokens
  • General Store Tokens
  • Saloon, Bar and Restaurant Tokens
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  • Miscellaneous Louisiana Token Articles

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    Dating of Tokens

    Dating tokens as to the year of issue is a very inexact science since few tokens were dated as issued. Of those tokens that bear dates, the majority are patent dates such as on Ingle System tokens or bi-metallic issues, not the year of striking.

    Tools generally used in the dating of tokens include directory listings, other historical records, and interviews with token issuers or their family members. Another useful method is developing a knowledge of diework, i.e., the physical appearance of the token. Usually this is accomplished by determining that several merchants using the same diework were in business for only a few years, thereby implying that any other issues with the same style were struck in the same time period.

    For some additional insight on diework and token manufacturers, see the section on token makers elsewhere in this introduction. One shortcoming to using business directories is that some have a lag of up to five years between the first (or last) listing and the actual year the merchant began (or ceased) operations.

    Another aid in dating tokens is the composition of the token itself. Although aluminum was used in the manufacture of tokens beginning in the late 1880s, the majority of aluminum tokens from Louisiana date from the twentieth century. Conversely, german silver (an alloy described as "white metal" in the listings) became so expensive (compared to brass, bronze, and aluminum) that its use in the manufacture of tokens virtually ceased after about 1910, although transportation, parking, and car wash tokens were struck in a nickel alloy (also designated as "white metal") in later years. Fiber, steel, and zinc were predominately used during the mid- and latter stages of World War II when other metals were rationed for the war effort. While most bi-metallic issues contain the phrases "Pat. July 1899" or "Pat. Appl'd. For," both dies continued to be used for issues documented to be from as late as the 1930s. Plastic tokens began to appear in the mid-1950s, and anodized aluminum "Mardi Gras" type issues came into popular use ten years later.

    Saloon Token - Jesse Hagar, Prop Favorite Saloon Lake Charles, LA
    Saloon Token - Jesse Hagar, Prop Favorite Saloon
    Lake Charles, LA - 1880s to 1906

    Tokens and the Law

    Challenges to the use of tokens began in the 1880s. While the courts upheld the practice of using tokens, the method of usage did gain enough disrepute to be regulated. This occurred primarily in the lumber industry and with cotton and sugar plantations, where workers were paid with tokens which could be redeemed only at the commissary. When Louisiana outlawed the payment of employees in this manner around 1910, some enterprising employers developed other schemes to allow continuation of "business as usual."

    One of these was to use tokens to indicate the amount of time worked (often signified by the words "time check") although these were often used as money. Much more popular was the practice of issuing the tokens to employees as an advance against future wages, redeeming them on paydays. Both these activities essentially ceased with passage of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

    One law affecting the making of tokens is what is commonly called the National Slug Law. This prohibited the striking of tokens in sizes and weights that so closely resemble that of coins as to operate coin-operated mechanisms. Another regulation is the Hobby Protection Act that requires certain items to bear the words "copy" or "restrike." This law was spurred by the proliferation of the so-called bawdy house tokens, of which a number are known from New Orleans. Lastly a recently-passed law requires all tokens to bear either the name and address of the issuer or some identifying mark (such as a mintmark) signifying the manufacturer.

    Food Stamp Change Tokens

    Food stamp change tokens were issued in Louisiana during three different phases of the USDA Food Stamp Program. The first of these was an experimental phase that was begun in Rochester, New York in May 1939. This plan was eventually expanded to a peak of 1741 counties and 88 cities including New Orleans, but it is not known when the Crescent City joined the program. It also is not known if any other portions of Louisiana participated during this phase. This plan was discontinued in early 1943. It was during this phase of the program that the tokens bearing inscriptions such as "1 Blue" and "5 Orange" were issued.

    When the plan was established, a two-color scheme was utilized to ensure that the subsidy was indeed used for necessary food purchases and to control the kinds of foods purchased with additional coupons, which were free. Participants would purchase a set amount of orange stamps and were then provided free of charge additional blue stamps which were to be used to buy designated surplus foods. The dollar value of the free blue stamps was half again as much as that of the orange stamps purchased. Each month, the Secretary of Agriculture would designate certain foods as surplus ("blue") and send the list to participating merchants.

    During Phase I, stamps were issued in two denominations, 25 and $1, and resembled postage stamps. Merchants were prohibited from making change in coin, necessitating the issuance of either credit slips or tokens for amounts of less than 25.

    The food stamp program was revived in mid-1961. During Phase II the color scheme was abandoned. The "stamps" were actually coupons of standard currency size and issued in 50, $2, and $5. As before, providing change in cash (coins and/or currency) was prohibited. Many merchants simply wrote the amount due on the cash register receipt, others had paper scrip, but a few issued tokens. In at least one case (Edlar Hebert of Kaplan) tokens issued in the 1930s and 1940s were pulled out of storage and used for food stamp change purposes.

    In January 1971 the USDA repealed the rule prohibiting the use of coin as change. This new policy was short-lived, and on March 1, 1973 what is referred as Phase III was instituted. It was during this phase that the bulk of the known food stamp change tokens were issued, although many merchants still used notations on the cash register tapes. This phase was abandoned December 31, 1978, and again merchants were permitted to give change in coin.

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