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Thursday, July 1, 1982


PIX #1 - Here are just a few of the hundreds of tokens Joe Emmons has collected from various towns and cities throughout Ohio. top row left to right: Hazelwood Inn, Hazelwood; Altman's canton; and J.W. Sperow, Benton Ridge. Second row left to right: The Orient, Orient; Jerry's Cafe, Fayette; and Star Poolroom, Bluffton; and third row left to right: Billy Wirth's Place, Elizabethtown; Dell's Restaurant, Fostoria; and Joe's Cafe, Cincinnati.

Not too many people know about merchant tokens and the part they played in business at one time in the history of this country.

Your author must admit only a limited knowledge of the extent of the use of tokens until Ray Dell showed me a letter from an Ohio collector who advertised in a journal for "collectors" of various items.

Ray Dell answered the advertisement inasmuch as he discovered a box of tokens which his father, John, had used during the early days of his restaurant business.

The letter Ray received was more than a reply about the collectors' interest in buying old tokens. The writer went on to say that his grandparents, the Emmonses, had lived in Fostoria all of their married life and had raised a family here.

When I saw the name Emmons, I immediately recalled my grandmother mentioning that name when I was a small lad. Apparently, she had struck up a friendship with Mrs. Emmons and had visited in her home, which was in the eastern section of Fostoria, where we also lived.


Off went my letter to Joe Emmons at Hillsboro, who had written to Ray, and back came a reply which not only identified his ancestry here but introduced me to the merchant trade tokens which are now part of Americana, having been used from the 1820's to the 1950's.

Consequently this article will provide some local history as well as information about an interesting hobby that may not be too well known.

According to Joe Emmons, who had become quite involved in the collection of tokens, it all started years ago in the more remote parts of this country where it often was miles from a small commuity to a bank. Money, especially small change, was scarce. Companies often issued tokens worth various amounts to their workers, who could spend them at the company store. That way it was not necessary to drive many miles by horse and buggy to the closest bank to secure small denominations of money for change. The practice also eliminates the necessity to keep large amounts of money on hand which would be subject to robbery.


Merchants also took up the practive of using tokens in place of small change. Customers accepted the tokens and spent them as money for future purchases. Tokens were redeemed only by the store where they were issued. For example, a dollard toward a 30-cent purchase, he might be given 10-cent tokens in place of small change.

The tokens were pressed from various metals: zinc, pewter, brass, bronze, aluminum, even rubber, cardboard and plastic. They were made in various shapes and designs, some having unusual artwork and lettering, others very plain. Some had openings in the center so the merchants could place them on a spindle.

Emmons explained that as communties grew and there were more banks closer to small towns and villages, the merchant tokens were no longer required and they disappeared from the national scene. It was then that tokens became collectors' items, the scarce ones bringing higher dollars. The average token today sells from 50 cents to $10, depending on scarcity and age.


Many of the tokens stated specifically what they would be used for, such as a hair cut, one pint (or quart) of milk, one loaf of bread, cup of coffee, one cigar and one beer.

The accompanying illustrations show just a few of the tokens from Emmons' collection of over 500 from Ohio towns. In addition to the tokens used by John Dell, there were others here and in neighboring villages and towns, such as: Muskalonge View Dairy, Fremont; Peter Simonis Sample Room, Tiffin; Diringer Bros. Pool Room, Tiffin; Lewis & Alford, Leipsic; J. Stahl, Carey; Star Pool Room, Bluffton; J.W. Sperow, Benton Ridge; St. Mary's Packing Co, St. Marys; C.A. Fox, Dunkirk; and Idle-a-While Restaurant, Risingsun. Some tokens were worth as little as 1 cent, 2 cents, 2 1/2 cents, 5 cents, others 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, and $1.

The one from Lewis & Alford, Leipsic, issued in 1908 was good for $2 in trade on a buggy, or $20 on a piano.

At one time, John Bowman had given your author a token used by Charles Pfau Bakery here in Fostoria, and it will now be given to Emmons for his collection.


Joe Emmons' grandfather was Lorenzo Emmons, born in Livingston, N.Y. After serving in the Civil War he brought his bride from southern Illinois to Fostoria where they raised a family of five, two boys and three girls, one of those five being Joe's father, John Franklin.

Joe speculates that his grandfather came to Fostoria through the persuasion of a war buddy. His war service left Lorenzo in poor physical condition as the result of wounds and the loss of toes from freezing while on picket duty. He also lost an eye in the service.

According to Joe, the only place his grandfather worked in Fostoria was at a lumber yard. Going through city directories, I discovered that Lorenzo and his family lived at 439 Town St. and worked at the F.W. Fraver Lumber Co., which was also located on Town Street, near McDougal.


Since Lorenzo was a Civil War veteran, his wife Mary was probably a member of the GAR Auxiliary. That is probably how she and my grandmother became acquainted since my grandfather, Nathan Joseph Babcock was also a Civil War vet, and grandmother was an auxiliary member.

Lorenzo Emmons died March 9, 1914, and is buried in Fountain Cemetery.

Although Joe Emmons was not born in Fostoria or ever lived here, his sister Pearl and husband, Jack Johnston, did. At one time, Johnston was a railroader here and also had the Flat Iron Restaurant.

Another sister, Mae, and husband, Wayne Price, owned the Peacock or Paradise Restaurant, also the Hays Hotel and taxi car. Both sisters, Mae and Pearl, now live in Florida.

Just before turning this article in for publication, I learned that Joe Emmons is the past two year president of the IKO (Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio) Token and Medal Society with members throughout the United States.

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