The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 18, May 1, 2011, Article 4


At the suggestion of Howard Daniel, Ray Bows submitted this detailed review of military token content in Katie Jaeger's book, "A Guidebook of United States Tokens and Medals." Thanks! -Editor

Guide Book of U.S. Tokens & Medals A Critique of Military Token Listings and Passages in Katherine Jaeger's A GUIDEBOOK OF UNITED STATES TOKENS AND MEDALS

by Master Sergeant Ray Bows, US Army (ret.)

Just as Tokens and Medals – A Guide To The Identification and Values of United States Exonumia by Stephen P. Albert and Lawrence E. Elman in 1992 expanded my collecting interests of exonumia well beyond my deep interest in military tokens and unofficial military medals of the United States and foreign countries, so was Katherine Jaeger's A GUIDEBOOK OF UNITED STATES TOKENS AND MEDALS a shot in the arm to my collecting interests. Jaeger's crisp descriptions and understandable commentary, as well as Whitman's outstanding photographs, call out to all collectors to expand into every avenue of exonumia which they have not yet explored.

I have been collecting military tokens since stationed at Camp Mercer, Korea in 1963, and since have received literary awards from TAMS, NTCA and the Numismatic Literary Guild, for "The Buffalo Nickel of the 17th Infantry Regiment", "The Tokens and Exonumia of Fort Sheridan, Illinois", "United States and Allied Military Tokens of Vietnam", "Military Slot Machine Tokens of Okinawa" and a few other books and articles. I mention these awards only to establish my credibility, and because I hope that my comments about the fine work of Ms. Jaeger are taken both seriously and constructively. In devoting the last 48 years to the study of U.S. military tokens and related military monies, long ago I recognized that most of the catalogers of both early and late military tokens have no record of military service, and therefore rely only on a cursory understanding of the subject of their cataloging specialties. In listing known pieces and giving approximate values they consider their jobs complete, after-all, all many collectors and dealers actually want is a price guide to their chosen collecting field.

I am compelled in this review to note disturbing assumptions made in the catalog that truly need clarification. One of my mentors once explained that the NCOI heritage is the underpinning of our military strength, and that senior sergeants are the ones who actually transmit the living army's story from generation to generation, and I take that task seriously. I feel a need to note corrections that should be made before another edition is published, and do this before misnomers and misinformation stick. I remember the first time I heard a coin dealer refer to 90% silver coin as "junk silver" instead of "bulk silver" at which I chuckled, but now with Whitman using "junk silver" as the acceptable term for 90%, I realize that when improper word usage, or incorrect terminology go on being used unchecked they become accepted by the general population.

About Sutler Tokens Commentary on Page 87
Although sutlers were indeed "civilians"; in the case of the Union Army they were appointed by Congress, had warrant officer status, and were assigned to the specific units for which they sutled. Contrary to how it was presented in the book not just anyone could "follow . . . troops around as they camped and decamped" at least not with authorization. Such peddlers and hawkers were run off. Most units were assigned a solitary sutler, with some exceptions, and it was that sutler alone who was authorized to sit at the pay table and collect loans made to the soldier in the form of tokens. The sutler's importance was such that he sat directly after the company laundress in the pay tent. Sutlers were replaced (in name only) by post traders in 1867, however some post traders called themselves "sutlers" well into the 1890's even after they were forced to move off army posts, and no longer retained government authorization to pedal goods to soldiers.

Post traders (in the Army) were abolished in 1880, but many had 18 months to dispose of their stock, while post traders in the Marine Corps existed through the end of the Spanish American War. Post Canteens came into being in 1880. The name Post Canteen was changed to Post Exchange during the period 1890 to 1892 depending on the post, because of the association that some people made with British "Wet" Canteens, which were drinking establishments for English soldiers. These oversights in the chronology are indeed bothersome.

About Company Store and Commissary Tokens on Page 88
Placing Post Canteen and Post Exchange tokens under the category of Company Store and Commissary Tokens, while listing Civilian Conservation Corps Tokens under Government Sponsored Tokens shows a total misunderstanding of the purpose by which such tokens were issued. Tokens issued by the US Army were absolutely "Government Sponsored". At Vancouver Barracks, in 1880, Colonel Henry Morrow established the first Post Canteen not to draw money out of soldier's pockets, (as company stores drew money out of miners pockets and over charged them for goods), but on the contrary was established to help his soldiers avoid public drunkenness and keep unscrupulous civilian merchants from rifling the pockets of those soldiers. Credit tokens were devised as a stop gap to insure that soldiers had the little luxuries and necessities they needed when paydays were late in coming because of long circuitous routes of pay masters. Colonel Morrow's innovation to protect soldiers certainly deserves better recognition, than do robber barons that exploited their workers in the coal mines.

About the heading 20th Century Military Commissary Tokens Page 92
First off, I saw no mention of 19th Century Post Canteen and Post Exchange checks in the volume what-so-ever. True military tokens (those sanctioned by the U.S. government) were first issued by the Subsistence Department, then part of the Quartermaster Corps, when by military order the army attempted to replace the sutlers and post traders in the 1870's. The other sanctioned tokens were Post Canteen pieces from 1880 to 1890 and Post Exchange tokens from 1890 on. These tokens were called "Pontoon Checks" because they "kept soldiers afloat from payday to day" as did pontoon bridges of the day. The term, now almost lost, was as much a part of military jargon as were terms like "fox-hole" or "dog-tags". Post Bakery tokens along with the others already mentioned were also authorized and sanctioned by the US government. Exchanges were broken down into Post Exchanges and Regimental Exchanges – one type being static, while the other was mobile. They were very, very different from each other. Post Exchanges would carry general items for the soldier and his family, while Regimental Exchanges would carry specific items – saddle soap and spurs in a Cavalry Regimental Exchange; sextants, plum bobs, hammers and work gloves in an Engineers Regimental Exchange and so on.

I have often mentioned and written about the fact French mint officials had no more knowledge of General Doyre striking 1, 2, and 5 Sol siege coins in Mainz, Germany in 1793 than the US Mint had knowledge of private companies striking tokens for Post Canteens, Post Exchanges, Regimental Exchanges and NCO clubs during the last 150 years. The siege coinage of Mainz is now an integral part of the French numismatic catalog, while somehow U.S. military tokens are still not understood as having the authority of the US government behind them. Military tokens are as much a part of "Government Sponsored Tokens" (and actually more so) than some pieces listed in Jaeger's Chapter 8 (beginning on page 113), that were issued by states verses the Federal government. I can understand the oversight – be it intentional or not – for if collectors considered military pontoon checks as being part and parcel of our US government's monetary heritage, the profound understanding would create cataloging problems within the numismatic community that would be insurmountable unless it was ordered by Royal edict that numismatic catalogers start all over again. Numismatists would literally have to reinvent the wheel.

About 20th Century Military "Commissary" Tokens on page92
In the history of the US military there has only been a handful of "Commissary" tokens issued. Other authors have called such tokens "Service Club tokens". Yet such military tokens are neither! In the Army, the military's largest issuer, they are "Sundry Fund tokens" and "Non-appropriated Fund tokens". To call them any of the other terms used by catalogers who have never actually been exposed to the military is misleading, and as if someone without the understanding of numismatics called an 1877 fifty-dollar gold coin "a marshmallow" or "a high button shoe". Neither military commissaries (the civilian equivalent of a grocery distribution operation), nor military service clubs (which are "on-post" equivalents of the USO) are in the business of extending credit to customers or operating vending machines – The commissary system is there to supply troops with rations (food) at the soldier/mess hall level, and to provide military families with food "at cost" plus a small "surcharge". Military service clubs provide the soldier with free coffee, writing paper, ping pong and pool table use – at no charge. – They have never had a need for tokens except, to my knowledge, for a penny-pinch game (penny-up-the-wall, if you will) in ASCOM City Military Complex, Korea because there were no pennies in country for doughnut dollies to conduct the game with. I somehow need to hammer home the fact that military activities like commissaries and service clubs that have no vending machines, and do not extend credit – have no use for tokens, except now in the Middle East for small change. Tokens for clubs and exchanges are used either for credit (to soldiers) or to operate vending machines, while POGS used in Iraq and Afghanistan are maintained solely to alleviate the weight of shipping tons of US coinage to bases overseas.

When mentioning "1) permanent military bases in the United States territories and on foreign soil". It needs understanding that we have NEVER had permanent military ‘bases" on foreign soil. Permanent installations are ONLY located in the US. Until recently a "base" has always been an Air Force term. US Air Force bases overseas are "Air Bases" never "Air Force Bases" – a "post" was an Army term. Permanent US Army installations (until a recent decision) were termed Forts (i.e. Fort Benning, Fort Bragg Fort Lewis etc). Semi-permanent and temporary US Army installations overseas are termed "Camps". A camp, even in the US did not become a "fort" until so declared by Congress – The only exception to this was in Panama and the Philippines when we considered them "our" territories (i.e. Fort Mills and Fort McKinley in the Philippines and Fort Kobbe and Fort Amador in the Canal Zone). Hastily prepared emplacements (during combat) overseas are termed base camps, compounds, fire bases, fire support bases, patrol bases, landing zones, and airfields. Only the largest of these installations have issued tokens during the Vietnam, Korean or post-WWII conflicts. There were a handful of locations in Vietnam given a "fort" name. Fort Page and Fort Dent come to mind. These were not forts, but so-named by uninformed unit commanders to promote esprit-de-corps.

The bottom two reverse photographs on page 92 are inverted. The reverse of the HACOM piece is a stylized sword on a shield – not a paint brush on a bloated arrowhead. On the reverse of the DAC token (Da Nang Area Command – not Da Nang Air Base nor Da Nang Air Command) the arrow inside the circle (actually a 1st Logistical Command insignia) points to 10:30 hours not to high-noon – This may seem trivial, but it is a very important point to all former 1st Log soldiers and those that received their supplies from them – Truckers in Vietnam, of which I was associated, who were expected to fight right along with the infantry. The significance of the 10:30 time frame indicated by the patch is that mission requirement dictates that it must be accomplished before the eleventh hour – the hour of finality.

About Military and Other Challenge Coins on Page 259
As far as Challenge Coins go, their origins include barroom banter, bull puckie, and balderdash, and I am not surprised that internet enthusiasts are caught up in it all and swept to a blocked doorway by the crowd. Fantasies and fables of World War I aviators keeping British pennies as change from a drink and how each man, somehow marking their coins, promised to forever keep them as a means of identification, or how a World War I aviator tied his specially struck coin in a poke around his neck, may have their separate place in the mysteries of history, but such tales seem little or nothing to do with the unit coin tradition which are often termed "Challenge Coins". It's probably senseless to attempt to refute all the concocted stories that I have heard and read concerning the origins of military challenge and commander's coins, some yarns which come from high places, and certain services in the Department of Defense yearning for long standing tradition. To attempt to establish customs in retrospect certainly borders on the ludicrous. My response to such tales is "Show us the piece that goes with your bright shining tale, and only then should we consider it after the unit coin in question has been examined."

"There is no evidence for challenge-coin use in World War II or the Korean conflict." is a totally erroneous statement on the part of Ms. Jaeger, although it does not negate her conclusion. The penny in a poke story is indeed invented, while there are numerous examples of military style challenge coins extending as far back as World War I. Unit medallions were made during, and at the end of the Great War, but so far my research shows they were only issued by US Army Infantry units. I have several different pieces in my collection, and without a doubt the 1st Infantry Division was the pioneer in this field. In that same vein, I can't stress enough that all stories of how "the challenge coin" came into being in US Army Air Corps units are unfounded rubbish, and should be ignored!"

The first actual Challenge Coins (with a Challenge theme) were issued by the military districts of Germany at the end of World War II – Criminal investigators used them in lieu of badges – There was an investigator's challenge and a verbal response of recognition by the suspect in question. Nothing happens overnight everything, even challenge coins evolve. I own a rare example of one such piece from the District of Mannheim. The first "enameled unit challenge style medallion" was again pioneered by the 1st Infantry Division in Nurnberg, Germany in October 1945. It was silver dollar size, made of aluminum and bronze in a sandwich style process. It was the first of the ubiquitous series, which are just as never ending and constantly issued, as are the stories about their origins.

The first unit coin made mandatory to be in a soldier's possession was the Buffalo Nickel of the 17th Infantry Regiment. It was issued during the Korean War – and subsequent issues were dated all through the fifties, while the 2d Infantry Division penny and the Pathfinder nickel followed. The first true challenge coins as we know them today were issued in the late 1950's through the very early 1960's. Unit coins of approximately half dollar size (32mm) were issued by Airborne Infantry Units including the 327th Airborne Infantry Combat Group, and the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 505th Infantry. Some of these pieces were holed by unit members and strung on their dog tag chains, as were pieces of the 171st Infantry Brigade, Fort Wainwright, Alaska beginning in July 1963. The later aluminum pieces were slightly larger at 35mm.

Special Forces challenges (without a challenge coin being involved) existed in Korea as early as 1963, while to my knowledge the first bar room slap-down of coins involved actual silver dollars which occurred with military members of the US Army's Rail Transportation Office while at Gare St. Lazare, in Paris, France in 1965, between soldiers handling US Army duty trains. The 10th Special Forces Group in Bad Tφlz, Germany may have picked up the slap down practice from SFC Mickey Norton, now deceased, who was a veteran of the Korean War. The Challenge Coin custom went to Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group, but it was General Melvin Zais commanding general of the 101st Airborne who perfected the Unit Coin, the Award Coin and the Special Presentation Coin. Many others claim to have developed these institutions, but I have indisputable proof that General Melvin Zais was the father of such things.

Katherine Jaeger's 289 page book was without a doubt a monumental task, a crowning accomplishment, and a labor of love. I have learned many things through her research that I did not know about in the "civilian realm" of token collecting, and have therefore not even attempted to address them here. I sincerely hope that this review will in some small way return the debt I owe her with my newly gained knowledge, and that hopefully she has received a few points from me about military from me through this review.

Katie's book was published in 2008, Our June 8, 2008 issue had an article about it. -Editor


Wayne Homren, Editor

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