From its early days in the 17th century, New York City was a growing center of commerce and industry—which needed a good supply of coins and currency. In the colonial period, the acute shortage of coinage resulted in a number of special, and often exceedingly rare, issues of unofficial coins such as the New Yorke in America token and the Brasher doubloon (see case 9 andcase 18). Many banks and businesses issued their own paper money. Small change was especially important, and the notes and tokens issued in the 19th century reflect interesting details about everyday life in the city.
During the 1830s, New York City and the rest of the country endured a severe depression in 1837, a stock crash caused many businesses in the United States to close down, and people hoarded coins. This resulted in an acute shortage of coins, and stores began to issue their own tokens, known as "Hard Times tokens." Although these were also used for advertising the various stores, they were accepted as money in the city. Many of the shops were in the historic downtown area of Manhattan surrounding the 1922 building in which the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is now housed.
Medals depicting landmarks of the city skyline were frequently issued in the 19th century. The Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty are still major attractions today, but some, such as the much admired Crystal Palace or the Croton Reservoir, are only known from contemporary representations.
Early New York Paper Money
Paper money played a crucial role in the early economy of New York when the colonies were not allowed to issue their own coins. An exception was made for paper money, which was issued as "bills of credit" and not regular currency.
Colonial New York 10 pound note issued on 1771 with the coat of arms of New York.
Colonial New York 4 shilling note issued by the New York Waterworks in 1775. This note entitles the bearer to "current money of the colony of New-York," payable by the mayor, alderman or commonalty.
New York State dollar note issued in 1780. The possessor of this bill was to be paid "one Spanish milled dollar," with 5 percent interest.
Three pence note issued by the City of New York in 1790. Such small change was issued in 1789-1790 in response to circulating counterfeit copper coins, which people refused to accept.
Theaters and Museums
Museums and theaters issued tokens or small medals to advertise their building and collections. These pieces, which were used for annual subscriptions or one-time admission, are some of the earliest tokens from New York City.
Penny token from the Theatre at New York (the Park Theatre) on Park Row, designed by Benjamin Jacob and struck in England at about 1797. (See this listed on the traveler's map under "Amusements.")
Castle Garden—originally called Castle Clinton—was built as a fort on the Battery around 1811. In 1822, it was turned into a major space for entertainments. This 1825 piece was apparently a subscriber pass issued to D. Pomeroy, a Brooklyn businessman. The building still exists today (again called Castle Clinton).
Peale's Museum, at 252 Broadway, displayed such attractions as a mummy, snakes and the original "Siamese twins" Chang and Eng. This 1825 token was probably for annual subscribers.
Entrance ticket to the famous P.T. Barnum Museum, located on Broadway and Ann Street. Some of Barnum's best-known attractions, such as General Tom Thumb, were exhibited here.
Admission token to the P.T. Barnum Museum with an image of the building. The admission fee noted on this 1862 token was 25 cents.
New York's Crystal Palace, built in 1852-1853 to rival the London version, opened as the site of the 1853 exposition. It burned down in October, 1859.
Hard Times Tokens (1833-1844)
Early in the 1830s, a series of economic changes led to a depression. As a result, paper money and other forms of accepted currency issued by private companies became worthless, and U.S. coinage was greatly hoarded. Financial panic and the failure of some banks and industries followed.
This was called the "Hard Times" era. Privately issued metal and paper advertising tokens (the metal ones of similar size to the U.S. large cent coin) began to circulate in place of official currency. (All tokens but one are from 1837.)
This 25 cent note was issued by the New-York Rice Mill, located on the corner of Jefferson and South Streets.
Henry Crossman, manufacturer of umbrellas, operated at 92 1/2 Chatham Street. The business existed at various Manhattan addresses until the 1860s.
W. Field made hats, caps and fancy furs, for which the beaver on this 1835 token was a symbol. The token gives the store's address as 148 Chatham Street.
Phalon's Haircutting was a famous salon from 1834 to the 1850s and sold hairpieces, such as the "Amazon Toupee," and a "Chemical Hair Invigorator."
Smith's Clock Establishment, at 7 1/2 Bowery Street, advertised with the timeless phrase "Time is Money" on a clock's face.
Merchants Exchange Building token reading "built 1827 Burnt 1835." The Tontine Building housed the Merchants Exchange from 1794 to 1825. In 1827, a Merchants Exchange Building—said to be fireproof—was built, but burned down in 1835.
Token for the "N-York and Harlaem Railroad Company of 1837," New York's first chartered railroad. It began service in November of 1832.
This token is for P.B. & S. Deveau's "Wholesale and retail Boot and Shoe Store."
Traveler's Map From The 1870s
This Citizen's and Travelers' Guide Map into and from the City of New-York and Adjacent Places sold for 25 cents in 1877, when it was published. In addition to listing various public transportation lines, the map also lits amusements, hotels and churches. Also highlighted are locations of some of the establishments that issued tokens displayed in this case. For example, see Sweeny's Hotel and various Delmonico's restaurant locations.
Famous Buildings and Public Works
In the late 19th century, several structures were erected that have become landmarks of the New York skyline.
This 1866 token is inscribed "Wesley Chapel and Parsonage" and "Dedicated by Philip Embury October 30, 1768." Phillip Embury, an Irish immigrant, was a follower of John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement. In 1768, he and his congregation erected the Wesley Chapel on John Street. (See this listed on the traveler's map as "John Street" under "Methodist Churches.") This token probably commemorates the 100th anniversary of Embury's preachings in America.
This small 1886 medal commemorates the Statue of Liberty, given by the French nation to the United States. The statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886, as a symbol for freedom and democracy.
This souvenir token of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge is inscribed "Two Cities As One." On May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge opened after 15 years of construction. It was then the longest suspension bridge in the world.
This medal commemorates "Water introduced in the City of Brooklyn December 1858" by the Nassau Water Works. It shows Poseidon, the ancient Greco-Roman god of the sea.
The Croton Reservoir opened in 1842 on the site where Bryant Park and the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library now stand. It held over 180 million gallons of water.
Bars and Hotels
Tokens and notes for restaurants, bars and hotels were common in the 19th century. The bars were meeting places that often offered musical and theatrical entertainment. The prices for lunches vary between 1 and 5 shillings.
Wood's Minstrels, a well-known singing and dancing establishment, opened on 561-563 Broadway in 1857, as commemorated by this token.
This token from Sachem Oyster Saloon at 273 Bowery is overstuck on a 1 real piece from 1775. Tammany Hall, a political organization, reportedly began here in the 1780s.
One shilling token (1850-60s) from Sweeny's Hotel on Chatham Street, where it was still located in the 1870s (see the traveler's map).
The Ladies Restaurant and Ice Cream Saloon issued this 3 shilling token.
The Fifth Ward Museum Hotel, located at West Broadway and Franklin Street, contained a fascinating collection of Americana. This token dates from 1847-1851.
R.H. Macy & Co., the famous department store, issued these tokens for soda in 1876.
Edwin Parmele's Bowling Saloon operated at 340 Pearl Street. One of five known tokens, this shows a man drinking from a goblet and the motto "Quite Comfortable."
Fifteen cent note from Delmonico's restaurant in 1862. First located at 2 South William Street, Delmonico's was a pioneer in fine dining and eventually opened at other locations (see the traveler's map).
25 cent note issued by Berry's Restaurant, 9 Broad Street, in 1862.
25 cent note from J. Gunning's Restaurant "payable at 59 & 61 Beaver Street."
Tokens were frequently used for advertising by jewelers, watchmakers or other skilled craftsman. They sometimes recorded prices, but more commonly they listed services and goods available. The tokens often help establish the address of the business.
This 1807 token is from Jas. S. Bradley, a "Gilder and Frame Maker" at 154 William Street. Bradley reused a variety of 2 reales pieces dating from 1783 to 1819.
Theodor Bollenhagen & Co., a toy and fancy gods dealer from the 1850s, was located at 49 Maiden Lane. This piece, made in Germany, shows City Hall.
Carrington & Co. at 78 Broadway advertised as a "General Purchasing Agency" for goods in large or small quantities. The business was established in 1851.
John K. Curtis, a jeweler and numismatist at 83 Bleeker Street, sold "autographs, portraits, curiosities and antiquities." This 1859 token depicts a man examining a coin and exclaiming "A real antique, but alas! It is indecypherable."
This 1853 token reads "H.B. West's Famous Trained Dogs" and depicts a man in a carriage pulled by two dogs named "Tray & Troy." The reverse shows New York's Crystal Palace, where West was operating.
Manhattan Watch Company issued this unusual token, probably in the late 19th century, advertising a gold-plated watch at $6, a nickel one at $5.
Early Notes From New York Banks
In the 19th century, local banks issued their own notes. They are an interesting source for the history of downtown New York, as they often feature local buildings or attractions. The denominations of the notes are sometimes unusual, such as the 3 dollar or the 400 dollar note.
3 dollar note issued by the Bank of New York in the 1850s, with an illustration of a beehive. The Bank was established by Alexander Hamilton in 1784. In 1789, as Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton negotiated the first loan for the newly independent United States government—a loan of $200,000 from the Bank of New York.
Proof of a 400 dollar note issued by the Bank of New York in the 1800s.
1 dollar note issued by the Chemical Bank in 1859. In 1823, the New York Chemical Manufacturing Company was founded and, by 1824, was carrying out banking practices. In 1844, the company was reorganized as The Chemical Bank of New York. In 1996, Chemical Bank merged with Chase Manhattan Bank.
1 dollar note issued in 1861 by the Park Bank depicting City Hall Park.
Proof of a 50 dollar note issued by the Leather Manufacturers' Bank in the 1800s, depicting a cherub sharpening a tool on a grindstone. This bank was established in 1832 and, through a series of mergers and name changes, became part of Chase Manhattan Bank by 1996.
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