Hanna & Co Tobacconist Tokens of Detroit

As early as the middle of the 16th Century, less than 100 years after Columbus’ journey to the new world, tobacco was readily farmed and consumed by Europeans who voyaged and settled in the Americas. A plant long cultivated by Native Americans, Europeans quickly adopted an affinity for its consumption, and a knack for growing it. Indeed, the plant was so much appreciated by the settlers, that it quickly became cultivated in all of the 13 original colonies.

After having entrenched itself as a successful crop in all of the American colonies, the plant quickly migrated to other parts of the world. By the mid 19th century, tobacco plantations had spread to Japan, China, Australia, South America, Central Asia, Russia, and Northern Europe.

John Hanna & Co Storefront in 1859
John Hanna’s Tobacco Store at 112 Woodward Ave, Detroit, c.1859

By the 1850s all major cities in the U.S. had dozens or more tobacco shops. Highly profitable, these stores specialized as one-stop places where consumers could purchase all of their tobacco needs and supplies. The shops stocked all the necessary paraphernalia to smoke, chew, or snort the dried plant. And by the start of the Civil War, most every store featured a life-sized wooden Native American in front of its shop. The symbol had become synonymous with tobacco merchants throughout the country.

As the number of smokers increased, so to were the varieties of tobacco that became available; cigar, cigarette, pipe, snuff, and chewing. And with the varieties came a vast array of brands.  Limited only to the creativity of merchandisers, multitudes of tobacco brands flourished locally and nationally. They had names like Mountain Dew, Amazon, Base Ball, and Yosemite.

The only thing more exotic than the brand names was the artwork employed on the various labels. Of all the themes that were used in branding, however, those employing Native American motifs and symbolism were the most popular.

As it was with all major American cities, the tobacco business was no different for Detroit Michigan. The quantity and breadth of tobacco shops had steadily grown. By the middle of the 19th century, the city boasted 15 tobacco manufacturers and dealers. And as was the case with many other cities, Detroit had its own brands of local cigar makers and other types of tobacco factories; Those intended for smoking, snuff, and chewing.

In 1852 Detroiter John Hanna Sr opened a store. Located at 112-114 Woodward Avenue in a four-level building, the store initially had an appearance like most tobacco shops of the day.  All the local tobaccos were advertised, and the customary Native American statue stood sentry at the door. The first floor housed his retail operations, and the uppers were used to make hand-rolled cigars.

But by 1859, the appearance of the store had evolved into quite a spectacle. Perched above his building was a large cowboy mounted atop a horse. Constructed of wood and standing nearly 12 feet tall, the flamboyant cowboy grasped a streaming banner emblazoned with the his name. The figure was so large that it could be seen from blocks away.

Hanna operated his tobacco store into the 1860s until his passing. Upon his death, his wife commenced operating the business. Sometime thereafter, she went into partnership with Robert Meginnity but continued using the Hanna & Co namesake.  Surviving Detroit merchant directories indicate the business in continued operation well into the 1870s and 1880s.

Numismatic Discussion

After the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War, federally minted United States specie began to disappear from general circulation. As the war grew in violence, breadth, and duration, so too did the widespread unavailability of federal coinage.  Initially this situation impacted only higher-valued coins including those struck in silver and nickel.  As the war intensified, the scarcity of minor coins likewise occurred.

In lieu of the availability of official U.S. coinage, merchants and the public alike found themselves in economic difficulty. Without such coins, fundamental and necessary business transactions became quite difficult on a daily basis. As an attempt to mitigate the crisis, the public began to use postage stamps as a means to continue daily transactions.  However, this attempt proved futile, as postage stamps were quite small and were easily prone to damage and tearing with repeated handling. Postage stamps were designed for one-time use only, to be affixed to envelopes.

3-Cent Fractional Note United States
A 5th Issue Fractional 3-Cent Note in Choice Very Fine Condition

The U.S. government tried to avert the crisis, by issuing small denominated paper money, known as ‘fractional currency.’ However, this too became problematic, as the public was untrusting of paper money and the notes themselves were also inadequate for general circulation.

Eventually merchants themselves stepped in.  Harkening back to earlier times in U.S. history, they began to have their own, private coinages – tokens – minted. Consisting primarily of minor values (1-cent, 2-cent, etc.), merchants in great numbers had their tokens designed and struck so that they were similar appearance to official U.S. coins. Most tokens were composed of similarly valued metals, and possessed designs and motifs that emulated official U.S. coins.

As the Civil War roared-on, over time millions of small denomination Civil War tokens were struck and circulated.  Indeed, so many were struck that for decades thereafter the tokens survived in general circulation, intermixing and accepted no different than official 1-cent U.S. coins. Resultantly, many examples of these tokens survive today.

Among the thousands of surviving varieties of Civil War tokens known, there exist many examples that were issued by tobacconists. Included among these surviving examples are the tokens circulated by John Hanna & Company.  All featuring an “Indian Head” motif much like U.S. federal cents that were struck at the time, the tokens were engraved and struck by the firm of John Stanton of 139 West Fifth Street, Cincinnati Ohio.

The table below outlines all known Hanna & Company Civil War Store Cards.

Hanna & Co Civil War Token Varieties
Listing of all known varieties of the Hanna & Co Civil War Token.

Numismatic Specimens

All Hanna & Co Civil War Store Cards share the same obverse die, Fuld 25285.  This is common across multiple varieties of the same merchant when a merchant placed additional orders of tokens over time. The engraver would often reuse the original obverse die if the merchant’s key business information remained unchanged.  Often it is the reverses that varied. While at first glance the two “Indian Heads” below appear the same, they are in fact two different dies. (See comparison below.)

Diagnostic Comparison Between Stock Dies
Click to see enlarged image.

As was frequent when additional token orders were made, engravers would simply use a stock die of the same type, but not necessarily the same exact stock die variety. This is because stock die reverses were reused across many orders; some more often than others depending on popularity of the stock die. Over time they became worn with use, and engravers would either re-punch the stock die to correct wear, or engrave a new die altogether of the same type.  Given the time period and tools available, even the most talented engravers could not perfectly duplicate a die.

The first specimen was struck in copper, with a grade of about Choice Very Fine. Listed as Fuld MI225AJ-1a, it has a rarity rating of R-8 (5-10 specimens known.)

Fuld MI1225AJ-1a Hanna & Co Tobacconists Detroit Michigan

The second specimen was also struck in copper.  NGC slabbed with a grade as MS-64 RB, it is listed as Fuld MI225AJ-3a with a rarity rating of R-7.

Fuld MI225AJ-3a Hanna & Co Tobbaconist Detroit Michigan

Aaron Packard [End Mark]


Notes and Sources

  1. Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
  2. Tobacco: Its History, Varieties, Culture, Manufacture and Commerce, E.R. Billings, American Publishing Company, 1875
  3. U.S. Civil War Store Cards Third Edition, George & Melvin Fuld, CWTS Publications, ©2014
  4. The Civil War Token Collectors Guide, Bryan Kanzinger, Valley Forge Coins-Books, ©2001
  5. A Guide Book of United States Tokens and Medals, Katherine Jaeger, Whitman, ©2008
  6. The Library of Congress Digital Archives
  7. ‘The Vanished American,’ Expedition Magazine, Elisabeth W. Russell, Summer, ©1966
Aaron Packard

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