My Numismatic Story


My Numismatic Story

Ken Bauer

    I first became aware of coin designs at age five when I began receiving a weekly allowance of one “eagle money,” which was what I called a quarter. I liked the ones with a flying eagle best. Later I noticed that one of my flying eagles was missing the three stars underneath! And on the other side, the branch in the lady’s hand went on both sides of the L. It had no date. I thought I had found something important, but my parents could tell me nothing about it. After we moved I found a friend in my new neighborhood who introduced me to coin collecting. Like many kids of the late 50’s and early 60’s I had blue Whitman coin folders for pennies, buffalo and Jefferson nickels, mercury and Roosevelt dimes. I filled them by asking every adult I met if I could “check their change.” Later, my dad would bring home rolls of pennies and nickels from the bank and I would joyfully go through these filling holes in my albums. My friend was older and was allowed to take the bus to Washington D.C. and go to the B.M. Douglas coin shop. He came back with worn 19th century type coins: a half dime, a two cent piece, a large cent etc. I was hooked. I acquired my first Library of Coins album, a Type Set of US Coins Part I. My grandmother began sending me some coins she inherited. These would arrive in the mail, one or two at a time. A worn out and pitted 1864 two cent piece was a source of argument with my friend, I was sure it was a small motto. A gorgeous silver 3 cent piece I received from Granny somehow flew across the room and down the crack of the kitchen booth seat when I went to show my dad. I was in a panic for the hour that it took to move the furniture, take the booth apart and ultimately locate and recover my prize. Later mailings had an 1825 dark chocolate large cent that was the best condition old coin I had ever seen, which was later followed by beautiful EF steel-gray 1810 half dollar. Fond memories. I still get excited when tokens come in the mail.

    I was in high school when I saw my first Civil War Token, but I didn’t know what it was and neither did its owner. Knowing that I was interested in coins, a friend of my parents had brought it on a visit to show me. At first I thought it was the nicest 1863 Indian Cent I’d ever seen. It was a rich chocolate brown with little or no wear ... and it was as sharp as a tack. I turned it over, instead of the wreath and “One Cent” there were cannons, a drum and flags! What was this? It was much cooler than an Indian cent! It wasn’t in the Red Book. Now I can say that it was one of Scovill’s fine products:  an MT 1 reverse and either I 5.2 or I 5.3 for the obverse.

   Out of college, first job, and newly married I decided to take up coin collecting again. I had always liked half dimes, maybe collect them by date? A trip to the local coin shop convinced me it would be much more expensive than I could afford - at least in the grades I liked. But there, in the case for $2, was the neat token that became my first CWT. I figured it was probably the most common one, but actually no, it turned out to be a PA 750S-1a. The side that caught my attention was type F 4. Like most CWT collectors of the early seventies, I bought nearly every reasonably priced CWT I could find and before too long, liked some more than others, and desired some sort of collecting goal and organization. Getting the Fuld black book on Patriotic CWT had me looking for an example of each pictured die. I made a list of those I wanted most: 133/458, 160/417, 184, 283, 498/499, 511/514 and more. Then the massive first edition Fuld Store Card book was published. What a tome! But I loved the size of the photos. I hauled it to coin shows and to work with me. I had been thumbing through the reverse die section and liked many different designs including: 1187, 1188, 1189, 1190. These eagles were neat, really patriotic, and weren’t part of my Patriotic collecting objectives because they weren’t in the Patriotic black book. Uh oh. What tokens have these as reverses? The storecard book was organized by State, then Town, then Merchant, then variety. I would have to look through the whole book each time I fancied a new reverse die. I liked the designs of the storecard reverses too, especially 1297 through 1351 or so. What tokens had these as a reverse? In those days there was no Internet, no eBay, and no pictures of lowly CWT in any auction catalog. There were dealer fixed price lists and the Civil War Token Society quarterly auction of CWT, which all listed by Fuld number.

    I completed a project in which I keypunched onto IBM cards (anybody remember those?) the Fuld number, rarity and reverse die number for every die marriage in the storecard book using the equipment at work (this was way before PC’s). Nearly a year of lunch hours later, I had a just about a full box of IBM cards (2,000). The sorting was done in seconds by computer batch job and a print out created.

    Thus armed, I expanded my collecting objective to include dies from the Storecard series. Somewhere along the line I met Benj Fauver who worked near by. For a few years we had quarterly luncheons and he would show me really neat and rare tokens. This left quite an impression on my collecting tastes: I became less interested in whether a token was, or wasn’t a CWT and more interested its design, attractiveness, history and how it was used. I found myself collecting merchant tokens, politicals, slug facsimiles, medals, early Canadian tokens and game counters, especially early California storecards and counters. We would do the occasional trade and sometimes I would make an outright purchase, like the time Benj sold me both a copper and a brass 1383 (S5 7). More fond memories.

    My wife and I raised three wonderful daughters and I temporarily infected each (and my wife) with token collecting of various varieties. Often a daughter or two would accompany me to the local Fremont Coin club meeting or show. Daughters off to college, an IPO and a divorce later, by mid-2000 I had time, some money and independence on my hands and once again returned to CWT.  In amassing the majority of my current collection I realized several things. First, I couldn’t bring myself to spend a lot of money on a variety that wasn’t very different from one I already had. The Smith Liberty Heads (LC 1) did me in. Second, I value attractiveness more than I do completion. I would rather have a hole in my collection than an unattractive token - that realization cleared out a lot of tokens from my collection and saved me a lot of heartache (and money) when I passed on B&R’s Smith and Youngman Auction example of 232A/403a which was retoned. Third, I liked the pictorial designs and many neat ones (e.g. MD560A, MI3A, MI225I, OH905C etc.) didn’t have die numbers ... and once more I found myself expanding my collecting objectives, this time to include the pictorials in the body of the Storecard reference text.

    I got it into my head that I would write a book about Collecting CWT by Pictorial Type. I would combine similar designs and bring in new designs such as the pictorial storecard obverses, then the few pictorial sutler tokens, then even Civil War Soldier’s ID’s. I have been “going to write a book” for about six years when I realized that a web site would be a far better alternative: 1) it doesn’t ever have to be copy-ready or “finished,” 2) the size of photographs is not the space issue it would be with a book, and 3) there’s a great opportunity to be collaborative, so let me know what you think!