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Tokens were also used in brothels or houses of ill repute, primarily in the famed “Storyville” district of New Orleans, where prostitution was legal until 1917.
The customer would buy the token from a contact (often the bartender) and after services were rendered, he would give the girl the token plus whatever tip he deemed sufficient.
In this way, the Madam was assured of getting her cut while the girl was able to keep all her tips. Several tokens are known from businesses that have been documented to be connected with brothels, but since most indicate a numerical redemptive value they may have been simply bar checks rather than “house” tokens.
The token on the left is a Fake or Fantasy piece. Called Bawdy House Tokens, Whore House Tokens or Cat House Tokens, many of these tokens were made 20 to 30 years ago to sell as souvenir pieces in cities such as New Orleans and other tourist spots. They can also be found at flea markets and antique stores. They are about the size of a silver dollar, made of thin brass and can be quickly spoted as most if not all have incuse lettering instead of raised lettering like the Emma Johnson token above. They are not copies, they are Fantasy pieces. Real brothel tokens were never made this way. Typical descriptions include the phrases – Good For All Night – $3.00 Screw – All Night Check $3 – Screw Check – Southern Belle Saloon – Whiskey Tobacco and Fancy Women.
MME. Emma Johnson 331-333 N. Basin New Orleans, LA
Because this item is well struck and has not shown up in quanity it is not believed to be a modern made fantasy token. Emma Johnson was one of the more notorious madams to operate in the famed Storyville district of New Orleans. Her first enterprise was located on Gasquet (now Cleveland) Street, but she moved to Basin Steet in the early 1900s and operated the largest brothel in the history of New Orleans. Johnson had the reputation for putting on erotic shows and drawing large out of town crowds, she was never prosecuted. Fammed Jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton served as house pianist for a time. Johnson was forced out of business when the Storyville red light district was closed October 10, 1917.