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Token of the Month #14 -
The Bernard Baruc Token of Charleston

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Each month there is a special South Carolina token or medal that is highlighted as the Token or Medal of the Month. This month the honor goes to one of the earliest South Carolina tokens on record.

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The 22mm brass token pictured above was issued circa 1855 by Bernard S. Baruc of Charleston, South Carolina. Previous authors have misidentified the issuer of this token as the grandfather of a famous South Carolinian with a similar name - Bernard M. Baruch. The latter Baruch was an influential figure in commerce and national politics in the early part of the twentieth century. He was one of a group of early businessmen that took an interest in the stock market, and as a result of some canny investments, made a fortune for himself early in life. He was the first person to whom the nickname "Wizard of Wall Street" was given. Later, because of his business acumen, he was selected to serve as an adviser to President Woodrow Wilson during World War I, and again to FDR during World War II. He also served on the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission in 1946, which formulated policy regarding the international control of atomic energy.

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Bernard M. Baruch, "The Wizard of Wall Street," as he appeared on the obverse of a recent medal.

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It was perhaps an easy step to assume that the issuer of this month's token and the famous Bernard M. Baruch were related. Both are from South Carolina, and both have very similar names. I would point out that the spelling of the last names are different, however. But this often does not mean anything, as names are often misspelled in official records and other reference materials, and occasionally there are die-cutting errors on tokens and medals. And frequently the spelling of surnames will "evolve" over time, actually changing slightly from generation to generation. Many genealogists and other researchers will attest to this type of "evolution." That is not the case in this situation, however. The two men were not related, at least, not closely. Baruch's autobiography, entitled My Own Story, talks extensively about his family. In it Baruch does state that his grandfather's name was Bernhard (of which Bernard is a derivative), but goes on to say that his grandfather did not emigrate to the United States from Germany, nor did he even come for a visit. Baruch writes about his boyhood in Camden and also about his two uncles (named Joe and Herman) who also emigrated, one of which (Herman) had a store in Charleston for a period of time. But author Baruch made no mention of any other relatives named Bernard, nor any that may be construed to be the issuer of this token.

Besides not being the grandson of the famous financier and presidential adviser, we do have some facts about the issuer of this month's token. The book First American Jewish Families states that Bernard S. Baruc was born on December 4, 1828 in Germany, the son of Sigismund and Nanette Baruc. It is not known when he emigrated to the United States, but it had to be before October 10, 1855, as that was the date that he married Mathilda R. Oppenheim in Charleston. They immediately began a family, having five girls in a period of 10 years: Nannie in 1856, Emmie in 1858, Rachel in 1860, Catherine in 1863, and Mathilda Rebecca in 1865. The same source goes on to list family trees of the Baruc and Baruch families, and does not show any links between the two.

As far as Baruc's business goes, it was listed for only two years. The 1855 Charleston city directory lists Bernard S. Baruc at 208 King Street (the same address as on the token) as a seller of fancy goods and toys. He is listed again in the 1856 directory. The 1857 and 1858 directories do not show a listing for him, though. He appears again in the 1859 directory as a "clerk" with no address given. The token was probably issued in the mid-1850s, coinciding with the appearance of Barucís business in the city directories.

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A view of the 200 block of King Street taken circa 1870, about 15 years after this month's token was issued.

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The South Carolina Department of Archives, which has the Confederate enlistment information for the state of South Carolina, has two listings for B.S. Baruc. One listing shows the enlistment of B.S. Baruc in Charleston at the age of 25 as a Sergeant into Company G of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry. Another listing gives a February 20, 1862 enlistment of B.S. Baruc as a Sergeant in Company B, 17th Battalion South Carolina Cavalry. There is no way of knowing whether both listings refer to the same person, but they probably do. The book The Jews of South Carolina lists a B.S. Baruc as a 4th Sergeant in the Williston Rangers. The same volume also shows a B.S. Baruc as a Jewish citizen of Charleston from 1824 to 1860. It is possible that the four references shown above all refer to the same person, but this is not known for sure.

This is the extent of the information that I have been able to put together for Bernard S. Baruc. I would have liked to have found a short biographical sketch somewhere or perhaps an obituary, but as yet have not been able to do so.

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And now, let us take a second look at the token itself. The obverse features a well-executed palmetto tree in the center with the following legend above: BERNARD S. BARUC / IMPORTER OF FANCY/ GOODS & TOYS. The remainder of the obverse legend appears below the palmetto tree: 208 KING STREET / CHARLESTON S.C. The reverse shows another well-executed design feature, this one an eagle holding three arrows and an olive branch in its talons, reminiscent of those appearing on nineteenth century U.S. coinage. The Latin inscription IN UNITATE FORTITUDO appears above the eagle, the German words SPIEL MUNZE appear below. The Latin words in the phrase above the eagle loosely translate as "in unity is strength" and fits in nicely with the theme presented by the eagle. The German phrase below the eagle, however, holds a big clue as to why the token was issued. The words translate literally as "game money." As mentioned above, Baruc was a merchant specializing in fancy goods and toys. Some of the items he sold were undoubtedly games of different types. And along with the sale of these games, he probably gave away or sold these tokens. They were then used in the games as counters in a way similar to how poker chips are used today. They also functioned as advertising for Baruc's business. Thus the token can be classified in two different ways; as a game counter it falls into the category of game counter (also called "spiel marke"), and as an advertising piece it falls into the category of "storecard." The token was undoubtedly struck in Germany, like many of the game counters of the day. This makes sense as Baruc was a native of Germany and probably had many business contacts still there.

As far as availability is concerned, the token is fairly scarce. I personally know of only six examples, but undoubtedly more exist, probably somewhere in the range of 10 to 20 total specimens. Russell Rulau, in his book Standard Catalog of United States Tokens, 1700-1900, catalogs two different specimens of the Baruc token, one struck in brass and one struck in copper. He apparently followed Donald Miller's earlier cataloging efforts in listing both brass and copper examples. The specimens which I have examined have seemed to have been made from brass, and it may be that there were only brass tokens struck, which can sometimes appear to be copper when toned. Regardless of whether they were struck in brass or copper, or both, the tokens of Bernard S. Baruc belong in the pantheon of classic South Carolina tokens.

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Copyright 2000 by Tony Chibbaro.

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Sources

South Carolina Tokens by Tony Chibbaro, Token and Medal Society, 1990.

My Own Story by Bernard M. Baruch.

American Jewish Families by Malcolm H. Stern.

The Jews of South Carolina by Elzas.

Phone conversation with historian at the South Carolina Department of Archives.

The Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 by Russell Rulau, Krause Publications.

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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.

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Email: chibbaro@mindspring.com