Charge coins are one of the best kept secrets in the credit card collecting hobby today. Everyone who learns to recognize charge coins has the possibility of duplicating or even surpassing the opportunity.
Spotting collectible charge coins
Credit card collector, Walt Mach, wrote:
“While scanning some ‘maverick’ tokens at a local coin show, I spotted an oval shaped coin with a hole in it that I knew immediately had to be a charge coin. The dealer had no idea what it was and I purchased it for $50. It turned out to be a charge coin issued by the Smith and Kasson Company of Cincinnati, probably in the 20s or 30s – very beautiful and made of white metal.”
Dealers unfamiliar with charge coins
If the dealer had known the Smith and Kasson piece was a charge coin, he could have asked for more and gotten it.
It’s common to find that most dealers don’t know what charge coins are. The few dealers who do know seem to price common coins they can identify from $5.00 to $8.00 (for undamaged coins).
Some charge coins were issued without the name of the store on them. These coins have either the store’s initials or monogram. Any charge coin found in a dealer’s inventory that only has initials or a monogram is generally priced around a couple of dollars. That’s because most dealers can’t identify the initials or monograms. As soon as the dealer can identify the coin the price immediately goes up.
Learn how to identify charge coins
If you aren’t able to identify a charge coin, it could be to your benefit to learn. It’s one of the few times you may have the upper hand when buying from a dealer.
Here’s a brief explanation:
Charge coins, the first credit pieces, started being issued in the 1860s. They were still in use as late as 1959.
Most charge coins are the size of a quarter or half dollar. Because of their size, they were often carried with change. This is why they are commonly referred to as coins.
Characteristics of charge coins
Ed Dence, another credit card collector, wrote:
“Charge coins come in various shapes, sizes, and materials. Most are rectangular, round, or oval. Some are in the shapes of shirts, socks, or hats. They’re made from various materials such as fiber, German silver, celluloid, steel, and copper. The issuing store had its name, monogram, or initials on the coin. Each coin has a customer’s identification number. The coins never carried the customer’s name.”
Variety of uses
“The use of the coins varied. In your local haberdashery, you could purchase anything from a necktie to a pair of shoes. At the drugstore, it was used to purchase a bottle of cough syrup or a box of candy. Even a washing machine or a sofa could be bought from your favorite department store – as long as the coin was issued by these stores.”
Acquiring charge coins
“To acquire a charge coin, you had to have the means of guaranteeing payment at a later date, usually the end of the month when the bills came due. You also had to have a responsible job or position. Never in those days did the stores solicit you as they do today with their colorful charge cards of plastic money. You had to apply to the store or stores that issued these charge coins. After filling out an application and they run a background and financial check on you, then you might qualify for your charge coin.”
Using a charge coin
“When making a purchase, the salesperson, without tendering the goods to the buyer, would check a master list for the name of the customer against the number on the coin. If they didn’t match or the customer didn’t give the correct name, he didn’t get the merchandise. So if a lost coin was found by someone other than the person to whom it was issued, it did not do them any good. In a case like this, the salesperson would keep the coin so it could be returned to the rightful owner.”
“Coins were usually holed so they could be put on a keychain for safety. Many women wore them on chains around their necks to keep them from being mislaid or lost.”
Building a charge coin collection
Charge coins are still plentiful enough to make it possible to build a significant collection. They’re also scarce enough to have a bright future.
Seldom do collectors have the opportunity to acquire important pieces of Americana at affordable prices, particularly when the pieces are so essential to a hobby and carry such historical meaning.
Whether you buy a charge coin for .50c or a rare and much sought-after piece for $20+, it should be a satisfying experience. That’s because of the enjoyment received from owning such an artistically beautiful piece. Charge coins have a rich and romantic history. This makes them an exciting collector’s item.
Copyright 1987 by Greg Tunks