Hard Times Tokens

Hard Times Tokens
America Speaks
by Michael E. Marotta ©Copyright 1993, 1994, 1998 by Michael E. Marotta Some material here also appeared in the Bowers and Merena Rare Coin Review.
 hard times tokens
 hard times in america lg

"I take the responsibility," says Andrew Jackson, standing in an empty treasure chest. Martin Van Buren's ship of state has tattered sails on the obverse of a coin; the reverse shows Henry Clay's sails billowing. "I follow in the steps of my illustrious predecessor," says the jackass on the obverse while the reverse shows a treasure chest being borne off by a turtle. "Good for shin plasters" refers to worthless paper money used as stuffing in boots. Many, to avoid charges of counterfeiting, bear the slogan "Millions for defense NOT ONE CENT for tribute."

In 1834, an economic downturn on the English stock market brought "hard times" to both Canada and the United States. However, the event that defines the start of this era in the USA was a clash between the Bank of the United States and President Andrew Jackson in 1832.

The BUS was a semi-private institution, the invention of Alexander Hamilton, and precursor to the Federal Reserve. It was slated for renewal in 1836, but Jackson didn't wait. He withdrew US Treasury money from the BUS and deposited it in local banks. Interestingly, the Treasury had an embarrassment of riches, about $17 million in surplus gold and silver. Also, the US government was without debt. However, when the BUS closed, credit collapsed.HT-81A R3"Am I not a Woman"
HT-81A R3

Political activists and merchants created these 1-cent tokens to take up the slack. They were an East Coast phenomenon, since metals, dies, etc., required industry. (Twenty five years later, Civil War tokens were issued from Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin in the West.) The fact that most types of Hard Times Token can be found today in grades from Fine down to Good indicates that they actually circulated in trade.

The standard reference manual for this series is Hard Times Tokens 1832-1834 by Russell Rulau. His work is based on a book from the 1899 by Lyman H. Low. Rulau includes the Low numbers in his catalog. He estimates retail price. He has added many new items over the years with each new addition. The book also approximates the rarity, R1 (common) to R8 (perhaps unique).

Some of these coins are objectively rare and highly valued outside the world of numismatics. "Am I not a Woman" is the motto on an Abolitionist token. "Am I not a Man" is its companion piece and is
exceedingly rare These two are difficult to find in higher grades because they have been popular with collectors for over 150 years.

You can find common Hard Times Tokens in almost any dealer's inventory. You will find them priced all over the range depending on the dealer's willingness to own them. You will have to use basic numismatic principles to grade them. Although they rate a general entry in The Red Book, not all services will slab them.

America eventually recovered from the Panic of 1837. The Federal Debt rose. Finances moved from Chestnut Street in Philadelphia to Wall Street in New York. Hard Times Tokens retired to dressers and chests as government cents (soon smaller) circulated again. If you really love American History and really treasure the values that define our nation, you will find a wealth of pride in these artifacts.

HT-240 R1Centre Market
HT-240 R1
HT-73 R2Half Cent Worth of Copper
HT-73 R2
HT-290 R1S. Maycock & Co.
Merchant Card
HT-290 R1

No Half Cents were issued by the 
U.S. Government between 1837 and 1839, 
but a privately issued token appeared 
in 1837 to fill the void



P.J. ANA 126469

Reprinted in part 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.

• 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 sao 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 17DD·19DD (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.)

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.

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 itHT-70HT-70

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.HT-34HT-34"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 DropHT-63HT-63
This example is silvered copper

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.


HT-9 frontHT-9 back 

Running Boar