The 19mm token pictured above has long been considered "THE" classic South Carolina token. Struck in 1837, it is the earliest token known to have been issued within the state. Also, because its date of issue falls within the "Hard Times" period of the 1830s and 1840s, the R.L. Baker token is included in the series known as "Hard Times Tokens." This series is heavily collected, and as South Carolina's only contribution to the series, the Baker token is highly sought after. With an estimated 20 to 40 specimens known, there are not enough Baker tokens in existence to satisfy the demand of all potential collectors, and consequently, the value of this classic South Carolina trade token has risen steadily.
The Hard Times period of our nation's history falls within the years 1833 to 1844. During this time the country experienced a general collapse of the economic system, which was caused by the failure of most of the banks in the nation, especially the Bank of the United States. The panic which ensued gripped the entire nation. Many factories and businesses were forced to close, and a good percentage of the population was left without work. Gold, silver, and copper coinage was hoarded and this left a void in what little remained of the day's commerce. Tokens were struck to fill this void, many referring to the foibles of the banking system or of Andrew Jackson, President of the United States at the time and widely regarded as orchestrating the collapse. Today, the tokens remain as a reminder of one of our country's first widespread commercial depressions.
President Andrew Jackson, in office during the Hard Times era, was blamed by some for the collapse of the economy.
The R.L. Baker soda water token was first catalogued in 1899 by Lyman H. Low as number 108 in his seminal work, Hard Times Tokens. Doctor Benjamin P. Wright also listed it in his 1899-1901 series in The Numismatist entitled "The American Store or Business Cards." In it, he deemed the token extremely rare and gave it a value of $5 in fine condition, a large sum for a token at that period of time. This work was later reprinted in book format. In 1920, Edgar H. Adams included the token in his catalog United States Store Cards. Adams did not list values in his book, nor did he evaluate relative rarity. In 1962, Donald Miller reworked and expanded Adams' listings in his work entitled A Catalogue of U.S. Store Cards or Merchants Tokens. Miller gave the Baker token a rating of excessively rare and valued it at $150 in fine condition and $250 in uncirculated condition. More recently, Russell Rulau has listed the token as HT 430 in the Standard Catalog of United States Tokens, 1700-1900. Given a rarity rating of R6 (13-30 specimens surviving), the token is valued at $1500 in fine condition and $4500 in uncirculated. Rulau actually mentions two different types, one struck in german silver (as above) and one struck in copper. The copper specimen is rated at R9 (only one known).
Most specimens encountered are probably struck in an alloy which, during the period of its manufacture, was called Feuchtwanger's metal - a german silver alloy that did not contain any actual silver. Rather, it was a white tarnishable metal composed of copper, zinc, and nickel. Dr. Lewis Feuchtwanger was a German immigrant living in New York who invented the alloy and in the late 1830s petitioned Congress to adopt the alloy as a replacement for copper in the country's large cents. Mint Director Patterson did not like the metal and Congress rejected Feuchtwanger's petition. That did not stop him from promoting his alloy by other means, particularly through its use in token coinage. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of tokens manufactured from "Feuchtwanger's Composition" still in existence. The Baker token was most probably manufactured from this alloy also.
A photo of one of Feuchtwanger's tokens.
Not much is known about R.L. Baker, the issuer of this month's token. His name appears in the 1835-36 Charleston city directory as a druggist, operating at the corner of Broad and East Bay Streets. There is no other information that can be positively attributed to Baker at this point in time. He would make a good subject for further research.
With the present paucity of information about Baker, what does the token itself reveal? The obverse does not reveal any new information about the merchant, other than the fact that the token was “good for 1 glass.” The reverse explains that the glass referred to on the obverse is a glass of soda water. The reverse also pictures a rather intriguing urn with vapors rising from the top. And these two clues lead to a furthering of the story of this token - to the early history of soda water and soft drinks.
A soda water urn, similar in shape and manufacture to the urn pictured on the reverse of this month’s token.
Soda water, as thought of today, was not comparable to the soda water of the 1830s. There was no “soft drink” industry at that point in time. In fact, the soda water of the day was not even flavored. It probably tasted a bit like today’s club soda, just some plain old water with a little fizz in it. Nevertheless, the beverage was touted as a medicinal panacea and garnered much praise from the medical establishment, such as it was. (Many of the physicians of the day were also druggists and sold soda water as part of their drug store businesses. They saw no conflict of interest in touting the health aspects of soda water and continuing to sell it in their stores.) Baker himself may have been a physician also. The year 1838, the year after Baker issued his token, brought forth the first flavored soda water. Philadelphia perfume dealer Eugene Roussel came up with the idea of adding lemon-flavored syrup to the carbonated soda water, and this became the precursor to today’s soda pops. In the ensuing years, other flavors were developed, such as vanilla, strawberry, raspberry, and pineapple. Some drug stores offered as many as thirty or more different flavors. Eventually, elaborate soda fountains were featured inside the leading drug stores and these became de facto meeting places for the citizens of the town.
A drawing of a French soda fountain, circa 1850.
Next month we will continue with another of South Carolina's classic nineteenth century tokens.
Copyright 2000 by Tony Chibbaro.
South Carolina Tokens by Tony Chibbaro, Token and Medal Society, 1990.
American Business Tokens by Benjamin P. Wright, reprint by Quarterman Publications, 1972.
United States Store Cards by Edgar H. Adams, reprint by Sanford J. Durst Numismatic Publication, 1981.
A Catalogue of U.S. Store Cards or Merchant Tokens by Donald M. Miller, Henry Hall, Inc., 1962.
E-mail message from Harlan Greene, research librarian at the Charleston County Library.
The Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 by Russell Rulau, Krause Publications.
If you collect or have a casual interest in South Carolina tokens or tokens issued by cotton mills, lumber companies, or other types of businesses, you may want to purchase my book, South Carolina Tokens and its two supplements. To read a description of these standard references, please click on this link: Books.
Token or Medal of the Month Main Page
A Short History of Token Use in South Carolina
South Carolina Trade Tokens for Sale - Page 1
South Carolina Trade Tokens for Sale - Page 2
Other South Carolina Exonumia for Sale
Trade Tokens from Other States for Sale
eBay Auction Listings
South Carolina Stereoviews
The Charleston Exposition
Links to Other Sites