Most token collectors who have been collecting for a number of years will know the feeling. What I am talking about is the feeling of elation that a collector will get when he finally attributes a maverick token that has doggedly resisted attribution for many years. Recently I was the recipient of such a feeling when, completely out of the blue, I was able to attribute a stubborn maverick token that I had been working on for over 6 years. But what makes this particular attribution special is not the town that it was eventually attributed to, nor the length of time it took, nor the amount of work that went into it, but the unusual way in which the attribution came to me.
The token that I am discussing appears above. It is your run-of-the-mill, 21mm, aluminum maverick token. Issued by Wooten’s and good for a 5¢ glass of soda, I obtained it early in 1999 with a group of maverick tokens from the Bill Garrett collection. Bill, now deceased, was an early token collector from Spartanburg, SC. I met him in 1987 when I was working on the South Carolina token book. He allowed me to catalog his collection of South Carolina tokens, and I felt very privileged to do so as he was a very secretive man and I was the only person (as far as I know) to be allowed to see his collection. He began collecting tokens in the 1950s, when they could be picked up for a dime or a quarter and his collection was filled with numerous rare, one-of-a-kind tokens. He told me that he had never paid more than $1.00 for any token in his collection, obtaining many of them free by visiting the parking meter departments of nearby cities. Bill passed away in the 1990s and the bulk of his collection found its way into the hands of his descendants. A portion of his collection was sold to a local dealer and I was given the opportunity to purchase around 100 of Bill’s maverick tokens.
Many of Bill’s mavericks have proved to be local in origin. I have now attributed over a dozen to South Carolina, including two Brunswick-Balke-Collender pool table reverse tokens. There were over 20 Ingle System tokens in this group, and quite a few of them were attributed to states in the Southeast. So I knew that there was a good chance that the Wooten’s token could prove to be from South Carolina. I concentrated my search in the South Carolina upstate by poring over my old Dun & Bradstreet mercantile directories. All my searches were fruitless, though, as I could never find anyone named Wooten in the ice cream or soda business. I had found a Wooten in Greenville in the grocery business, one in Spartanburg in the book & stationery business, and one in Newberry in the hotel business, but never one in the proper occupation.
I had just about given up on attributing this token until one day when I was going through a stack of postcards I was preparing to sell, I came across one that gave me that “Eureka” moment. I was looking at a view of Main Street in Spartanburg, when I noticed a sign on the left side of the street. It prominently declared “Wooten’s,” although the “W” could only partially be seen. I had to pull out my magnifying glass to make out the rest of the sign, but the smaller letters underneath “Wooten’s” read “Soda Parlor.” The card was postmarked July 10, 1910, so the view was probably taken in 1909 or so. I immediately pulled out my mercantile directories and searched the years 1905 to 1915 in Spartanburg. The only listing I found was for M.F. Wooten, selling books and stationery in 1909. The dating coincides with the postcard, so this must be the same business, although without mention of the ice cream/soda parlor. Needless to say, I pulled the postcard from the group I was selling. It appears below.
The absence of a mercantile directory listing for Wooten’s soda parlor business brings up an interesting point. While such directories are a marvelous tool for attributing maverick tokens, they do have their drawbacks. Many businesses which issued tokens were not listed in such directories for one reason or another. Pool halls, restaurants, shoe shine parlors, and barber shops come immediately to mind. I’m sure there are many others that could be added to the list. And as to why M.F. Wooten wanted to emphasize his book and stationery business in the directory and downplay his ice cream & soda parlor is anyone’s guess. But we must remain cognizant of the fact that just because a business listing is absent from the Dun & Bradstreet directories, it does not mean that the business did not exist.
Copyright 2005 by Tony Chibbaro.
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 three supplements. To read a description of these standard references, please click on this link: Books.
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