A HISTORY OF TOKEN USE IN LOUISIANA
by Leonard Gresens
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines a token as "a piece of stamped metal used as a substitute for currency." The Dictionary of Numismatic Terms published by the American Numismatic Association says a token is "usually a piece of durable material appropriately marked and unofficially issued for monetary, advertising, services, or other purposes."
Tokens were known by numerous nicknames. Coal miners called them "flickers." In saloons and bars, particularly those in the Midwest, they were known as "chits." "Klacker" was popular in Alabama, while "scrip," "checks," and "due bills" saw widespread use. The most prevalent name in Louisiana seemed to be "brozine." The origin of this term is not known, but it is possibly an altered form of "bronze" which was the composition of many tokens. Another terms popular in Louisiana was "doo-ga-loo" with other names seeing localized use. One such term used in the New Orleans area for 2½¢ issues was "quarti" or "quartee," which may have come from the fact that it represented one-tenth of a quarter.
Many different and diverse sources issued tokens, including Lumber Company's, Sugar and Cotton Plantation Commissaries, Bakery's, Dairy's, Grocery and General Stores, Restaurants, Seafood packing Houses, Saloon's, Bar's, Billiard, and Pool Hall's. Tokens were also used by transportation companies on their buses lines. Plus old Amusement Arcades as well as Modern Arcade, Military Bases and strawberry pickers. Tax tokens were even used to collect taxes and Masons issued Masonic pennies.
The scope of my presentation is to describe tokens used in Louisiana, mostly Shreveport and Bossier, that were exchangeable for merchandise, goods and services plus tokens used to signify an amount of work done, given as a receipt for some type of pre-payment or otherwise having monetary value.
Tokens were usually made of brass, bronze or aluminum. However cardboard and fiber were also used. Paper coupon books saw some use in Louisiana. The method of use was limited only by the imagination of the issuer, but most fell into one of the following categories: (1) to extend credit to employees, (2) to provide a discount, (3) to make change in unusual amounts (drink token), (4) to ensure purchases at a particular business, (5) to designate an amount of work done, (6) to show proof-of-purchase, (7) to attract new customers, (8) to serve as a medium of exchange after a pre-payment, and (9) to control access to certain areas.
Before, we go further, let me tell you how I came to collecting tokens.
History was never my strong suit. School work wasn’t something I really wanted to do also. Let’s face it, I never had a favorite subject, well maybe art, until I figured out I had to do the work to get a grade. Then it wasn’t really fun anymore. So how did this “I don’t want to study” person ever get interested in history? Much less how did I get interested in such an obscure subject as exonumia?
As a child, I became interested in coin collecting. I started off with the blue Whitman folders, collecting, pennies, nickels and dimes. Quarters were too valuable, and ended up being spent. The collection grew as I continued to add new coins and other things to the collection. One item that was a part of my collection was a Shreveport Transit Co. Student Fare token. I remember using these tokens when I rode the trolley to school every morning when we live on Madison Avenue. We would catch the trolley at Madison and Laurel Street and ride to downtown Shreveport, where we transferred to the Line Avenue trolley at the J. C. Penney store front. That token had been in my collection probably before I started collecting coins. Wondering how much it might be worth, I did some research. That’s where it all began.
Tokens and medals always had that mystic to me. What were they used or made for? Why were they used? And of course were they still worth anything? One of my first purchases I recall was the bronze medals of the United States Mints, Denver, Philadelphia and San Francisco. I proudly displayed those on my dresser at home for years. The main interest was they were buildings. I still to this day find medals and medallions with buildings on them interesting. I was so proud of these treasures that I displayed them one year at the Shreveport Coin Club’s coin show as an Exhibitor. I had a special badge and walked around the show proudly with the special recognition of “Exhibitor”. I was even awarded a small trophy proclaiming my “Exhibitor” status forever marked in history. That little trophy still sits among my other awards.
Then came along higher education,… college. I quickly realized I didn’t have the money to buy expensive coins and medals. So, the hobby was put on the back burner. The collect I acquired was forgotten about in the bottom drawer of my dresser. Every now and then I would run across a silver dime, quarter or Kennedy half dollar in some change and it would be retired to my bottom drawer. Until things got really tight.
In need of spending money, hobby money seems to defeat the purpose of, well let’s just put it honestly, party money. Friends were going out and having a good time and sometimes I would sit there thinking, “I have an asset that I can sell and join the action”. So I did. I answered an ad I found in the newspaper, “Collector will buy your coins, top dollar paid”. A number of items were removed from the dark confines of the dresser drawer and sold. Only the best was taken and the so called junk remained. But I had the stark reminder of my other good times of collecting these precious items. And I promised myself, I’ll rebuild this one day when time are not so hard.
A few items that remained with me, the Shreveport Transit Co. token, still in my collection today, and the U.S. Mint medals. And the interest was still there. I would pick up a copy of Coin World or Numismatic News and read over what was taking place in my beloved hobby. In one edition the new Mints sets from the U.S. Mints were being advertised. I quickly began to put together the extra cash to purchase a few sets, both Mint and Proof, from the Mint. I continued to acquire these items year after year when I suddenly realized, the bottom drawer was too full. Other means of storage was required and then, there it was, I had fulfilled the promise of rebuilding my collection.
I’m back in the game. Back to my old ways. I’m stopping by the bank picking up a few rolls and checking dates. Watching my change to see what’s there. At work, I’d check the change in the cash register for needed coins. And that’s when I ran across this small, spiral bound booklet by a gentleman from Bossier City named Eddie M. Hill.
I don’t remember where I found my first copy of A Tentative Listing of Exonumia of Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana but as I began to look through the listings, there it was, my Shreveport Transit Co. Student Fare token. Not only it, but several other transportation tokens from Shreveport. And other tokens from other establishments I never knew existed. The wooden nickels I purchased from the Shreveport Coin Club’s coin show were listed. The Holiday in Dixie doubloons I had had for years, listed. But where were these other new treasures? How does one acquire the other tokens and medals listed in this great little book? The search was on.
I quickly learned there were tokens for all kinds of establishments, industries not only in Shreveport, but all over Louisiana. And what I would come to learn later was there were tokens issued all over the world.