Last week I commented on a favorite series and my forthcoming study of it, The Whitman Guide Book of Civil War Tokens. This is now in press as you read these words and is schedule for release some time this summer.

This reminds me to suggest that the entire field of exonumia offers many interesting opportunities. The word exonumia was coined by the late Russell Rulau, meaning “exo” or outside of and “numia” or numismatics, of course. Tokens, medals, scrip notes, and the like are really not out of numismatics, but they are certainly removed from the federal coinage series.

Today in 2013 there are many fields that offer great opportunities. Believe it or not, large sections of exonumia have no reference books written about them or, if a reference book has been written, it is hard to find. As a miscellaneous example, during the Civil War, particularly from 1862 to 1864, hundreds of different merchants in New York State issued paper scrip notes in denominations such as 5¢, 10¢, 25¢ and 50¢, plus some others. These were usually printed on one side, sometimes on two, and gave a denomination and the name and address of the issuer. At a time when no silver coins were in circulation and even one-cent pieces were scarce, these passed readily from hand to hand. Recipients knew that a given hotel, saloon, railroad or other establishment that issued the scrip note would make good for its redemption. In the meantime they were useful in commerce to buy a newspaper, get a haircut, or sip a glass of soda.

As there is no book on this subject, no Internet source, or any other place to tap for comprehensive information, the opportunity affords itself of acquiring rare or even unique pieces for nominal costs. Many such scrip notes sell for between $10 and $30.

The field of American Art medals is similar. Although R.W. Julian has chronicled medals struck at the Philadelphia Mint from the 1790s through 1892, and a few other scattered references exist such as David Alexander’s recent tome on Society of Medalists pieces, by and large American medals of the 19th and 20th centuries are not cataloged. There are stray mentions of them in auction listings, but no single place where someone could turn and find out how many award medals were given by the American Institute in, say, 1856. However, such information does exist for some, such as annual reports of this particular institute. The Internet also beckons. This makes tracking down information much easier than it was a generation ago. Still, many remain elusive, generating quite a bit of pleasure and excitement when, after a long hunt, a particular merchant is identified and details learned.

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