DIY Currency: It Just Makes Cents

By: Katie Rezendes

With war comes shortages ¾ from food and supplies to even physical money. The American Civil War was no exception to this reality. By the second year of the war in 1862, government-issued currency was quickly disappearing as people began to hoard anything made of gold, silver, and copper. This placed many businesses in difficult situations as it hindered their ability to make and complete transactions with their customers. They came up with a simple solution: make their own money. Civil War tokens were primarily of two variations. Store cards were used to advertise a specific company with their name and location minted onto the coin. The other type was patriotic tokens, emblazoned with slogans such as: “The Constitution Must and Shall be Preserved” (American Numismatic Association user_5712 2015).

Photo 1: Patriotic Token Example ( 2012).

Privately manufactured store card tokens began appearing in late 1862, starting with H. A. Ratterman in Cincinnati, Ohio. A New York City barkeep named Gustav Lindenmueller was the first to bring store card tokens to New York state by the Spring of 1863, making over one million of his own coins and putting them into circulation. They were quickly accepted as currency as other businesses followed suit, and were most commonly used for streetcar fare. This ultimately came to a head when New York City’s Third Avenue Railroad went to Mr. Lindenmueller to redeem his tokens, but was denied. With no legal backing to them, the company was forced to take the loss. “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”(Hetrich & Guttag 2021).


Photo 2: Lindenmueller Copper Token (Wikipedia 2022).

On April 22, 1864, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864, which introduced the newly minted two-cent piece and made the privately minted coins ineffectual. By June 8 of that year, Congress made the minting and usage of non-government issued coins punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, a prison term of up to five years, or both. After this, the coins became collector’s items rather than currency (Tebben 2006).

Photo 3: Front of John Thomas Jr. Store Card Token excavated by Dovetail at Tudor Place, Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Dovetail).
Photo 4: Back of John Thomas Jr. Store Card Token excavated by Dovetail at Tudor Place, Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Dovetail).

On a recent excavation in May 2022, an example of a store card token was found by Dovetail Cultural Resource Group (Dovetail) at Tudor Place, the 1815 home of Thomas Peter and Martha Parke Custis Peter (granddaughter of Martha Washington and step-granddaughter of George Washington) in Washington, DC (  The token was identified in Dovetail’s Lab as an 1863 example from John Thomas Jr.’s Coffee and Spices shop in Albany, New York and produced by the Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, Connecticut. One side featured: “John Thomas Jr. Coffee & Spices Premium Mills”, with the obverse side giving the location of his business: “Redeemed Exchange & Dean St’s 1863 Albany N.Y.”.

Many examples of these tokens exist today, ranging from the fairly plentiful Lindermueller tokens to ones of a more unique and rarer occurrence. Each offers a glimpse into day-to-day life during the Civil War and the effects it had on the general population.


American Numismatic Association user_5712
2015 History of Civil War Tokens. Member blog, American Numismatic Association. Electronic blog,, accessed September 2022.

Forum Username “LostDutchman”
2012 Our Little Monitor Civil War Token Part II. Coin Talk.,  accessed September 2022.

Hetrich, George & Julius Guttag
2021 Civil War Tokens and Tradesman’s Store Cards: a Tentative List of the Civil War Tokens, and Store Cards Issued by the Merchants of the United States. N.p., Legare Street Press, Digital.

Tebben, Gerald
An Overview of Civil War Tokens.
2006, accessed September 2022.

2022 Civil War Token. Electronic article,, accessed September 2022.

Common Cents Archaeology

By: Joe Blondino

Most of the artifacts that archaeologists find don’t give us an exact date for when they were used or deposited on a site. Typically, artifacts are assigned a “type”, and each type has a date range that is generally accepted based on previous research. For example, the projectile points that we refer to as the “Palmer” type date to between 10,000 and 9,300 years before present (Gardner 1989), and “creamware” ceramics date to between 1762, when they were introduced by Josiah Wedgwood, and about 1820, when other wares came into fashion (Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum 2002). However, we occasionally get lucky enough to find objects with very precise dates, and perhaps the best example of this are coins, which often bear the year in which they were minted. Dovetail archaeologists had the good fortune to find such an artifact recently at the Hieskell-White archaeological site (44SP0816) in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. While excavating the cellar floor of the circa-1795 house, archaeologists recovered an 1822 penny, giving them a terminus post quem (“TPQ” in archaeologese) for the layer in which the coin was found (Photo 1 and Photo 2). This Latin phrase translates to “time after which,” and refers to the earliest date that a particular layer of sediment could have been deposited. This means that if a coin from 1822 was found in a certain layer, then that layer could not have been deposited earlier than 1822, or the coin couldn’t have gotten there unless there was some sort of disturbance…or time travel. In this case, the 1822 date works perfectly for the site!

Photo 1: 1822 Coin Found During Excavations in Fredericksburg, Virginia.


Photo 2: Second Coin Recovered From Excavation, Dating to 1808.

The coin found at the Hieskell-White site doesn’t look like a modern penny, as it is significantly larger. These are generally referred to as “large cents” to differentiate them from the modern-sized penny, which wasn’t introduced until 1857. The 1822 date happened to be easy to read on this particular example, but sometimes the date on a coin can be difficult to make out if the coin is particularly worn. In these cases, there are still other clues we can go by to narrow down a possible date range. If the date on the Heiskell-White coin hadn’t been discernible, we might still have been able to see the outline of the bust on the obverse (or “heads”) side of the coin, which would have told us that it was a “Matron Head” cent that was only minted between 1816 and 1839. This is still a tighter date range than we get from many other artifact types (Coin Collecting Guide for Beginners 2014). Some older coins from Europe may feature the likeness of the head of state at the time the coin was minted, which can give us similarly tight date ranges. So the next time you drop a coin, don’t fret—you may just be giving future archaeologists an important clue to dating their site!

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.


Coin Collecting Guide for Beginners
2014    United States Large Cents. Electronic document,, accessed December 2020.

Gardner, William M.
1989    An Examination of Cultural Change in the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene (circa  to 6800 B.C.).  In Paleoindian Research in Virginia: A Synthesis, edited by J. Mark Wittkofski and Theodore R. Reinhart, pp. 5–51. Special Publication 19. Archeological Society of Virginia, Richmond.

Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum
2002    Creamware. Electronic document,, accessed December 2020.