JET Reviews #001: A Guide Book of Civil War Tokens by Q. David Bowers

“JET Reviews #001: A Guide Book of Civil War Tokens by Q. David Bowers” is the first installment of a product review series on JET Numismatics. Content reviewed in this book, including scans of specific pages, were used with consent from Whitman Publishing, LLC.

Editor’s Note: A copy of the book was provided to JET Numismatics at no charge, however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

[13 September 2019]

by Jack Topping


Ask any numismatist about the history of the pieces in their collection. Some will respond will facts, dates, impressive knowledge and stories. Others may not care as much, as long as the investment is secure. The idea of living vicariously through little pieces of metal is all too real with U.S. Civil War Token collectors. To imagine the places the token has been, the people that held them, and their stories, is all part of the experience with Civil War Tokens. For such a specific field in an even smaller era, where does one begin to study the fascinating history of Civil War Tokens? That’s where expert numismatist Q. David Bowers comes in with the new 3rd Edition of his book, “A Guide Book of Civil War Tokens”.

Like all numismatists, daydreaming about the history of their collection is omnipresent. The difference, and unique nature of Civil War tokens, is that they came to prominence as a currency substitute in the most divisive period in American history. These tokens, as opposed to regular government issued coinage, were made by shopkeepers, merchants, and other small business owners as a means to continue to provide for their families and communities throughout the Civil War.

Chock full of information, the 512 page book is better described as the ultimate textbook for the Civil War Token collector. The information, combined with thousands of photos of individual tokens, has a certain similarity to R. S. Yeoman’s “A Guide Book of United States Coins”first published in 1947 (another Whitman “must have” publication). This makes glancing over pages upon pages of information easy to read and understand.

JET Quick Facts:

Cover: Paperback
Pages: 512
ISBN-13:  978-0794846466
Publisher: Whitman Publishing, LLC
Edition: 3rd

The book begins with a Foreword by John Ostendorf, a Publisher’s Preface by Dennis Tucker, and a Reminiscence by Dr. George Fuld, all three of which provide valuable insight to the book, personal experiences with Civil War Tokens, and the importance each token had on an American society dampened with war. Chapter 1 begins as a reference guide for the reference guide. Bowers uses this space to diverge information used in the book to the reader, including definitions, codes used to delineate the metallic composition of the tokens, and Dr. George Fuld’s rarity scale, among other facts. 

In Chapter 2, Bowers first discusses the history of the era before anything else. To emphasize the importance of this section, Bowers spends three of the first four chapters on historical context alone. Not only does Bowers give an overview of the reasoning behind the existence of the tokens, he goes a step further and includes information about how they’re collected throughout the war, as seen in Chapter 4, “Civil War Tokens and the History of Collecting Them”.

GB_CivilWarTokens_3rd_p41

As the book enters Chapter 5, “Aspects of Collecting Civil War Tokens”, Bowers initially addresses the topic of how to get started and where to buy them (Bowers aptly refers to this section as “The Marketplace”). Bowers then proceeds to give a quick guide on the grading standards of the tokens, determining the value of the tokens, factors that affect values, giving advice on choosing the right dealer or seller, and much more. 

As seen here on page 70, Bowers discusses how to enjoy your collection after amassing it. Bowers first makes a jocular comment towards modern U.S. collectors, saying, “Pity the collector of 20th-century Federal coins that differ little except for date and mintmark”. While the comment was made in jest, Bowers highlights the interesting—and creative—nature of Civil War Tokens, their designs, purpose, and value in different shops across the country. After page 70, Chapter 5 continues to address the different factors of collecting, and Bowers shares stories that influence the way one could collect Civil War Tokens (such as “The Curious Dies of the Family Gies”). 

GB_CivilWarTokens_3rd_p70

Chapter 6, “Patriotic Civil War Tokens”, begins with a praise towards Dr. George Fuld, the same gentleman who wrote the fascinating reminiscence and developed the rarity scale in Chapter 1. This chapter uses his work extensively in the reference to dies and their obverse/reverse combinations. This is explained in Chapter 1 with an explanation of the Fuld numbers of patriotic tokens. As seen here on page 154, the layout is crisp, even, with a detailed color photo for each entry. It’s listed in top-down order with the same format for each entry: the title in bold, a short description of the design (either with or without a date listed), followed by store card information such as name of the shopkeep or location (if applicable), the obverse and reverse die numbers that can be referenced in this book, the Fuld numbers (i.e. “70/281a”) then finally a grade range (i.e. “EF-AU” for Extremely Fine to Almost or About Uncirculated, respectively) and present day values in United States Dollars. 

GB_CivilWarTokens_3rd_p154

The book continues to list over 500 different patriotic dies, with crisp and detailed images in full color, with the same layout as the examples in the image above. The dies, their pictures, specific details and information make up the majority of Chapter 6 and well over two hundred pages.

As the book enters Chapter 7, “Civil War Store Cards”, Bowers focuses on the specific tokens that bear the same name as the chapter title. Bowers, in the first sentence, explains exactly what a store card is on page 200, saying, “Civil War store cards comprise the class of tokens with at least one, sometimes both dies bearing the name of a specific merchant, product, service or other commercial aspect.” With that, Bowers introduces the chapter with vivid stories about certain store cards and a specific history on them, including a section about the collectability of store cards during the war, similar to the introduction in Chapter 4. 

Chapter 7, like Chapter 6, acts as a complete reference for the tokens. First, there’s a section about token dies both used as patriotic tokens and store card tokens, with Fuld numbers listed for each entry. Nearly fifty pages later, the listings for each store card is organized by state. As seen here on page 255, these store card tokens are listed alphabetically first by state, and then by surname. Although some entries do not have a corresponding photo, each entry meets the “standard” Q. David Bowers set for himself in previous chapters, by including detailed information for each entry. 

GB_CivilWarTokens_3rd_p255

Although the chapters end with Chapter 7, Bowers still continues to provide expert information in Appendix A through F. Like a crowd shouting “Encore!”, Bowers provides even more information in these appendices, such as a detailed listing of engravers in that era, encased postage stamps for use as currency, Sutler tokens, and much more. The final pages of the book includes detailed notes, a biography on Q. David Bowers, and a useful index.

Final Thoughts

Q. David Bowers’ “A Guide Book of Civil War Tokens” is clearly a book for every historically driven numismatist. Numismatists of all ages and interests will be pleased to know that this book is not just a reference to the dies of patriotic and store card Civil War Tokens, it’s an entire history of the same, with detailed information spanning multiple chapters. It’s truly a book one could sit down and start to read, with or without Civil War Tokens in hand. I’ve learned more about Civil War Tokens after reading through this book than any other online articles or references I’ve seen mentioning Civil War Tokens. It’s another gem in Whitman’s Bowers Series and I look forward to collecting these tokens, thanks to the inspiration I’ve received entirely from this book. All in all, “A Guide Book of Civil War Tokens” is an information rich “textbook” for any numismatist, and it holds a valuable place on my bookshelf. 

You can find the book here on the Whitman Publishing website.

Many thanks to Mr. Q. David Bowers, Mr. Dennis Tucker, Ms. Dawn Burbank and the entire Whitman Publishing team for their support. 

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