Pictured above is the earliest trade token known to have been issued in the Piedmont section of South Carolina. The use of exonumia from this area of the state was not prevalent until the beginning of the twentieth century. Tokens and medals from the late 1800s are decidedly rare. Only two specimens of the above token are presently known to exist and tokens from other issuers are known only by single specimens. This scarcity is related to the fact that the Upstate area was the last region of the state to undergo industrialization and commercialization.
It was not until 1853, when the Greenville and Columbia railroad was completed, that Greenville was linked by rail to the rest of the state. Shortly thereafter the Civil War broke out and this, combined with the hardships of Reconstruction, prevented the early industrialization of the area. To be sure, there were a couple of isolated cotton mills in operation, but nothing like what the rapid growth of the 20th century would bring. In the 1880s, when this month’s token was issued, Greenville was still a sleepy, almost-frontier town nestled in the rolling hills of the Piedmont.
Greenville as it appeared circa 1890.
Being the closest thing to a “frontier town” that South Carolina had, Greenville enjoyed its share of drinking establishments. No fewer than 17 saloons and liquor dealers were listed by a Charleston reporter when he wrote an article for his Lowcountry readers during a visit to Greenville in the mid-1880s. And this was for a town of just a few thousand. Greenville apparently had its fair share of alcohol drinkers.
A typical saloon from the turn of the century. Note the case holding cigars to the right of the bar.
J.N. Poole was first listed in the 1883 edition of Bradstreet’s mercantile directory as selling “cigars, etc.” He later appeared in the South Carolina State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1886 as operating a saloon. He probably also offered alcohol by the drink in 1883, as cigar stores often did so. No other information could be ascertained about Poole’s business.
Poole’s listing as it appears in the 1886 South Carolina State Gazetteer and Business Directory.
Now, let’s have a second look at this month’s token. It measures 20mm and is made of brass. The obverse has the following inscription: J.N. POOLE, / .5 / GREENVILLE, S.C. It is interesting to note the decimal point placed in front of the numeral 5. I doubt that this denotes a denomination of 50 cents, but probably was a misguided attempt to reinforce the value of the token to the potential bearer as 5 cents rather than 5 dollars. The reverse pictures a liberty head facing left inside a wreath.
This reverse identifies the token manufacturer as “Dorman’s Stencil & Stamp Works” of Baltimore, Maryland. Many token collectors will recognize this name as one of the most prominent token manufacturing firms of the second half of the 19th century. John F. Wesley Dorman entered business in 1866 as the “United States Manufacturing Company.” Soon thereafter, he relocated his business to another Baltimore address and renamed it "Dorman’s Stencil & Stamp Works." After he died in 1893, the business was continued under the name “The J.F. Dorman Co.” Thousands of tokens from scores of issuers located on the Eastern seaboard were struck by one of the above firms, and many can be identified today by the distinct diework employed to make the tokens.
Although, this month's featured item does not have the magic word "saloon" as part of its inscription, its lack of appearance does not diminish the appeal of this early Upcountry token.
Next month we continue our look at South Carolina's classic nineteenth century tokens.
Copyright 2001 by Tony Chibbaro.
South Carolina State Gazetteer and Business Directory - 1886 published by Southern Directory and Publishing Co., 1886.
South Carolina Tokens by Tony Chibbaro, The Token and Medal Society, 1990.
Maryland Merchant Tokens by David E. Schenkman, Maryland Token and Medal Society, 1886.
South Carolina in the 1880s: A Gazetteer compiled and edited by John Hammond Moore, Sandlapper Publishing, Inc., 1989.
Saloons, Bars, & Cigar Stores: Historical Interior Photographs by Roger E. Kislingbury, Waldo and Van Winkle, 1999.
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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