Civil War tokens were a private effort to alleviate the coin shortage caused by the Confederate rebellion.
They come in two varieties: patriotics and storecards.
Patriotics usually have a national emblem on one side and a slogan, such as "The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved," on the other.
Storecards were issued by merchants. These typically have an eagle or an Indian on the front and the issuer's name on the back.
Both circulated as cents during the Civil War.
Containing less than a quarter of a cent's worth of copper, the emergency pieces were a great source of revenue for numerous private mints, especially in Cincinnati. Cincinnati is widely considered to be the birthplace of the Civil War token.
Neil Carothers estimated in his 1930 book, "Fractional Money," that private manufacturers could produce the tokens for less than three-fourths of a cent, leaving ample room for profit.
It is unknown how much manufacturers charged merchants to produce Civil War tokens. Though, judging from the great number of issuers, the price must have been very attractive.
While no records were kept, catalogers George and Melvin Fuld estimate that 1 million tokens remain from an original mintage of more than 25 million.
Catalogs record 1,500 varieties of patriotic tokens and 8,500 varieties of store cards. Storecards were issued in about 400 cities in 23, mostly Northern states.
An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 tokens issued by Columbus merchants are extant today.
Nine Columbus merchants issued 60 varieties of die and metal combinations, two of which are believed to be unique.
No one has ever collected a complete set of tokens; and in the 1960s the Fulds, probably the most avid Civil War token collectors of all time, were still missing four cities.
The most common storecard was issued by Gustavus Lindenmueller, a New York barkeep, who placed about 1 million of his own cents in circulation in early 1863.
The tokens were eagerly accepted. In the nation's larger cities. They were often all that stood between walking and riding a streetcar.
New York City's Third Avenue Railroad accepted the tokens in the course of business, but was laughingly rebuffed by Lindenmueller when the railroad presented the tokens for redemption .
"The railroad had no redress, and it is not improbable that incidents of this character forced the government to put a stop to their issue," George Hetrick and Julius Guttag wrote in their ground breaking 1924 book, "Civil War Tokens and Tradesmen's Store Cards."
Production of the pieces, which were of doubtful legality in the first place, ceased April 22, 1864, when Congress outlawed them.
Carothers says the tokens disappeared from circulation about the same time, representing a loss to the final holders.