Tokens And The Law

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Challenges to the use of tokens began in the 1880s. While the courts upheld the practice of using tokens, the method of usage did gain enough disrepute to be regulated. This occurred primarily in the lumber industry and with cotton and sugar plantations, where workers were paid with tokens which could be redeemed only at the commissary. When Louisiana outlawed the payment of employees in this manner around 1910, some enterprising employers developed other schemes to allow continuation of “business as usual.”

One of these was to use tokens to indicate the amount of time worked (often signified by the words “time check”) although these were often used as money. Much more popular was the practice of issuing the tokens to employees as an advance against future wages, redeeming them on paydays. Both these activities essentially ceased with passage of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

One law affecting the making of tokens is what is commonly called the National Slug Law. This prohibited the striking of tokens in sizes and weights that so closely resemble that of coins as to operate coin-operated mechanisms. Another regulation is the Hobby Protection Act that requires certain items to bear the words “copy” or “restrike.” This law was spurred by the proliferation of the so-called bawdy house tokens, of which a number are known from New Orleans. Lastly a recently-passed law requires all tokens to bear either the name and address of the issuer or some identifying mark (such as a mintmark) signifying the manufacturer.