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Is Token Collecting a Thing? You Bet Your Bottom So-Called Dollar It Is!

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez - September 1, 2021

A friend of mine who isn’t a coin collector but heavily involved in the realm of collectible toys recently asked me about some elongated pennies and brass tokens he had seen advertised on an online auction website. He was mainly curious if a lot of folks collect pieces like that. It’s a fair question… And one that comes with a resounding “YES” as the answer.

Of course, there are collectors for just about everything out there, and when it comes to tokens there’s no shortage of them. Just ask the folks at the Token and Medal Society – an educational and non-profit exonumia organization widely known by its acronym TAMS. Indeed, people have been collecting tokens for generations, and there are so many types to collect, it’s almost hard to know where to start.

1933 SC $1 KM-687a Blue Anodized Aluminum Santa Monica Breakwater, PCGS MS63. Click image to enlarge.

Now, I’m more of a Lincoln Cent guy, but you best believe I’ve got some tokens to my name… And it all started with my grandmother gifting me two transit tokens – one from my maternal family’s native Massachusetts and the other from my hometown region in Central Florida. They ended up becoming the last things she ever gave me before Alzheimer’s disease really took a hold of her. This was in 1993, during my first 14-ish months or so as a coin collector, and I’ve since added a variety of other tokens to my collection.

So, what do I collect and why? With tokens, it’s been my experience that I’m best focusing on some topical parameters when it comes to adding new pieces to my set. For me, those would be tokens relating to my hometown, those emblazoned with images and logos of my favorite local theme park, and any piece that bears my year of birth.

Having interviewed other token collectors over the years for various projects and journalism assignments, this seems to be the way they go, too. After all, tokens encompass a truly vast array of subject matter – and there are seemingly endless varieties out there. So, narrowing down collecting objectives to subject matter often makes the most sense for the plurality of token enthusiasts.

However, there are several other tried-and-true paths that many token collectors pursue. One of the most popular involves collecting So-Called Dollars, which are tokens measuring roughly the size of a United States silver dollar and have been made since the 19th century. Many of these pieces carry designs and legends relating to historical events, notable figures, landmark dedications, municipal anniversaries, and myriad other topics.

Hundreds upon hundreds of cataloged issues were made from the 1820s through the 1960s, and some are amazingly rare. PCGS World Coin Expert Jay Turner wrote a fantastic article on a series of So-Called Dollars honoring the Santa Monica Pier breakwater in southern California in 1933. PCGS, which grades a wide variety of tokens, encapsulates So-Called Dollars and some sell for hundreds and even thousands of dollars!

Another area of related exonumia that attracts many followers pertains to elongated pennies… I’m sure you’ve seen these. There are thousands of varieties, and they’re usually produced at places like theme parks and museums in crank-driven machines that press a penny into an ovoid keepsake that’s stamped with a special design or logo. I’ve been collecting these for decades, and I’ve got dozens that I’ve quite literally cranked out myself at 51 cents a pop.

Game tokens are also popular, particularly with younger collectors who might remember going to arcades and spending them on playing Pac-Man or skee-ball. I’ve got nearly a whole roll of these from Chuck E. Cheese that my family saved in the mid-1990s. I’ve never used them and don’t really know how much they’re worth, but I’m betting they’ll at least buy me another round or two of whack-a-mole if I ever take my future children to that other “mouse’s house.”

Article provided by PCGS at
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