An Introduction to Lincoln Civil War Tokens, Part 1

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by johnmilton, Sep 27, 2022.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Of all of the heroes who emerged from the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln continues to be the leader who is most admired. Although Grant and Sherman for the North and Lee and Stonewall Jackson for the South are revered for their achievements on the battlefield, Lincoln set the tone for the war. Lincoln provided the driving force that restored the Union and ended slavery. Today, 157 years after his death, a majority of historians rate Lincoln as our greatest president, and there are thousands of Americans who have more than a casual interest in Lincoln memorabilia.

    Of all the Lincoln related collectibles, my favorites are the 15 die varieties of Civil War tokens that feature an image of the Great Emancipator. I admire these pieces for a number of reasons.

    First, these tokens were made and used while Lincoln was running for office. Unlike other Lincoln items that were made after his death, these pieces were produced to support and honor the man while he was president or a candidate for president.

    Second, although these pieces are much more expensive than the average Civil War token, any collector who can afford to $2,500 or more for a token can assemble a set of these pieces. Unlike other moderately expensive collectors’ items, completing the Lincoln CWT series involves more than just spending money. In my case, it took me seven years to complete my set. Much of that delay was due not to a lack of funds but to the fact that the tokens were simply not available.

    Finally these tokens provide a picture of Lincoln as people saw him or wanted him to be seen during his presidency. On some tokens he was presented as the man who was fighting to save the Union. On others he was the man who was ending slavery. On one another piece Lincoln was the common man, the rail-splitter, who rose from the same lowly beginnings as many of those who had voted for him.

    The following survey of Lincoln CWTs will concentrate upon the obverse designs. Most of these pieces were produced with several different reverses and sometimes in three or four different metals. While forming a complete set of all the Lincoln varieties with all of the reverses and all the metals is possible, that goal goes beyond the scope of this survey.

    We shall begin with the two Lincoln Civil War tokens that were issued during the 1860 presidential election campaign.

    The “Wealth of the South” Varieties

    Wealth of South 1 All.jpg

    In 1860 Cincinnati, Ohio die sinker, Benjamin True, produced a set of dies for each of the four candidates who were running in that year’s presidential election. He also produced several dies for a run of strongly pro-southern political pieces that collectors call the “Wealth of the South” tokens. These pieces featured a palm tree, a cannon and some supplies on the obverse, with the fighting words, “No submission to the North.” The reverse featured some agricultural products and the phrases, “Wealth of the South … rice, tobacco, sugar, cotton.” Although the phrase, “Wealth of the South” appears on only a few of the presidential pieces, collectors now refer to this entire series of tokens by that name.

    Shortly before and during the war, southern supporters and sympathizers drilled a hole in some of the Wealth of the South tokens and wore them on their shirts or coats. Quite often the pieces were made of zinc plated brass. Although many collectors prefer the pristine, unholed examples, the holed pieces have a special appeal. These tokens were “on the front lines” of the political debate that led to the Civil War.

    True’s presidential campaign pieces included several varieties of tokens for Abraham Lincoln, John Breckinridge, John Bell and Stephen Douglas. Lincoln was the nominee of the Republican Party, which had fielded its first presidential candidate in 1856. The Republican platform called for an end to the spread of slavery to any more U.S. states or territories, but it did not call for the emancipation of the slaves.

    John Bell

    Bell CWT All.jpg

    The John Bell "Wealth of the South" Civil War Token is quite scarce. There are three minor varieties of it. The Bell side of this piece is Fuld number 509 A.

    John Bell had no firm solutions to any of the nation’s problems. His position was that the Constitution and the laws that were already in place could solve the slavery question. The Bell candidacy appealed to moderate southerners who were looking for a way to preserve slavery and avoid the Civil War.

    John Breckenridge and Stephen Douglas

    JCB 1860-4 All.jpg

    The John Breckenridge Civil War Token. There is only one listed obverse variety.

    Douglas CWT All.jpg

    There are two obverse die varieties of the Stephen Douglas Civil War token. This one, die 510 is the more common one.

    Breckinridge and Douglas represented two wings of the Democratic Party that had divided over the slavery issue. Stephen Douglas, who was the regular Democratic Party candidate, advocated “Popular Sovereignty.” That plan allowed the residents of the territories and new state governments to decide if slavery would be permitted in their jurisdictions. Many southerners did not trust Douglas on the slavery issue because they thought that he would sell out their interests if that were to his political advantage. Douglas’ plan had already blown up in his face in the Kansas Territory. A mini civil war had blown up over the issue with considerable bloodshed. Despite that, Douglas continued to advocate his position.

    The anti-Douglas southern Democrats nominated John Breckinridge, who was the sitting vice president. Breckinridge was a strong advocate of southern rights and the expansion of slavery, but he was not in favor of breaking up the Union.

    Ultimately the election boiled down to a contest between Bell and Breckinridge in the South and Lincoln and Douglas in the North. Since the North had the greater population and more electoral votes, Lincoln was elected president with only 40% of the popular vote.

    The southern states began to secede from the Union soon after it was confirmed that Lincoln had won the election. By the time Lincoln had been sworn into office in March 1861, the South had formed a government, and army and a navy and was making rapid preparations for the Civil War.

    Abraham Lincoln

    506A - 512 bpi All.jpg

    Here is Lincoln Civil War token variety #506. This one does not have a period after "ILL".

    507 - 510A All.jpg

    This Lincoln variety has the period after "ILL". There is third variety without the period which virtually unobtainable.

    Benjamin True produced two obverse dies for the Lincoln political medalets in the Wealth of the South series. The most obvious difference between the two dies is the presence (Fuld 507) or absence (Fuld 506) of a period after “ILL” in the legend. Given the similarity between the two varieties, many collectors are satisfied when they acquire one of these tokens. Even if you have the money, it may take you a while to locate an example.

    Next time we will begin to look at the Lincoln Civil War tokens that were issued during his 1864 re-election campaign.

    Since I may not have power for a while, the next installment might be delayed by a week or so.
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  3. l.cutler

    l.cutler Member

    Thank you, it will be worth the wait. Stay safe.
    johnmilton and Eric the Red like this.
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