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One of the more common usages of tokens was by Lumber Mill Commissaries. Often the sawmill community consisted of only the mill, company offices, workers’ housing, and the commissary. This commissary frequently became the hub of social activity in the community, containing the post office and often being host to church services.Common commissary practices used by most lumber companies were designed to recover as much of the employee’s wages as possible.
Many mills paid laborers daily in tokens that could be used in the company owned commissary. Usually these tokens were exchanged for cash either weekly or monthly. Some companies would only pay cash should an employee accept a discount of between five and twenty percent. Other mills paid their workers in cash, but if an employee needed an advance against his wages he was given tokens.
Cane River Lumber Co. – 1890s – Chopin, LA
Sometimes to get some cash, workers would sell the tokens to other merchants or individuals at a discount. In an effort to thwart this, many lumber mill owners placed such terms as “not transferable” on their script. Others issued their tokens in denominations of 4¢, 8¢, 20¢, etc. These would be redeemed for 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, etc. if the bearer accepted merchandise, but the 20% discount applied if the bearer requested cash. Apparently some businessmen in the west-central part of the state developed another scheme, since a number of tokens bear wording such as “24 months after demand we promise to pay bearer” or something similar.
Zenoria Lumber Company, Inc – Zenoria, LA