William Ward Wilbur was a mid-19th century merchant who owned and operated a commission-house on King Street in Charleston, South Carolina. There he sold real estate, properties, stocks, bonds, and other negotiable instruments. But most abhorrent – Wilbur was a slave auctioneer.
As a means to advertise, Wilbur issued storecard tokens to the public, and dispensed them to customers when giving change. Possessing a diameter about the size of an 1840s U.S. Large Cent, Wilbur’s tokens were traded at the value of one cent.
Research indicates that there wasn’t much that Wilbur wouldn’t sell or attempt to trade. Advertisements from The Charleston Mercury beginning in the 1840s include Wilbur’s promotions for utensils and cutlery, stationery and books, tea and coffee, fruit trees and flowers. Moreover, his auction notices include offerings of real estate and land, estate sales and dry goods, and most detestable – slaves and servants.
Charleston newspapers of the era repeatedly confirm the existence of W.W. Wilbur’s slave trade, including in one case, an advertisement for the sale of a 12 year old boy.
In another newspaper article, the outcome of an auction where a mother and her two children were sold for $1320.
Newspapers continued to advertise his slave trade into the mid-1850s. William Ward Wilbur was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1796. He died on November 29, 1861 at the age of 64–65. He was survived by his wife Mary Elizabeth “Polly” Mood Wilbur. It is unclear whether she continued with Wilbur’s slave trade.
Numismatic Overview & Recent Discovery
Until only recently, Tony Chibbaro, author of South Carolina Tokens, reported 12 different confirmed varieties of W.W. Wilbur tokens. In July 2010 the author, Aaron Packard, discovered a another variety. Struck in brass, the token was then silvered.
Portions of the silvering on the discovery piece was worn off due to circulation:
Upon examination of token photographs, Tony Chibbaro wrote:
“I have looked over your pictures and can tell that your token is an unpublished variety! Your token is not German silver (which would make it Adams/Miller 8B, Rulau SC8B), but is silvered brass. This is decidedly a silvered brass planchet because the brass is plainly evident where the silver plating has worn off. This can easily be seen when looking at the figure of the auctioneer and the palmetto tree, both of which show the underlying brass planchet. I noted in my article that there were silvered brass examples of a different die linkage. Yours is the first silvered brass specimen reported in the die linkage 2-B.”
Varieties, Types, and Diagnostics
Due in part to the number of specimens that are available in various numismatic venues, it is plausible that many thousands of these tokens were minted. And due to the multitude of various varieties proffered, it’s most plausible that varieties of these tokens were minted over a period of several years.
With this recent discovery, there now exists 13 confirmed varieties of this token, with two distinct obverse types and three distinct reverse types. The various varieties consist of combinations of these obverse and reverses, in conjunction with various metal compositions.
The varieties are the following. Of all varieties, there exist 4 obverse types and two reverse types, pursuant to taxonomies by developed Tony Chibbaro.
1. No period after ‘CA’
2. Period after ‘CA.’
3. Period after ‘CA.,’ also “GOING AT ONLY A PENNY”
4. No period after ‘CA,’ also “GOING AT ONLY A PENNY”
A. Thin Tree
B. Bushy Tree
Though previously listed by Miller et.al. many years ago, Tony Chibbaro reports that those in light blue are presently unconfirmed:
For reference purposes, below please find Tony Chibbaro’s rarity scale that he uses to rate the quantity of remaining specimens still in existence:
Alternate Method for Determining Obverse Type-1 and Type-2
While diagnosing my own specimens, I noticed that with worn examples sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the difference between Obverse Type-1 and Type-2, as the period after “CA” may be completely worn off.
The simplest way to assuredly identify a Type-1 obverse is to compare the placement of lettering between AUCTION and CHARLESTON. If the letter ‘L’ in CHARLESTON falls directly below the letter ‘N’ in AUCTION, it is an Obverse Type-1.
For Obverse Type-2, the letter ‘E’ in CHARLESTON falls directly below the letter ‘N’ in AUCTION.
Pricing for the various W.W. Wilbur token varieties can be found in the following table. More often than not, sellers on eBay do not price their specimens based on rarity or on variety type.
Thus, often the rarest specimens can be obtained for very little, and the most common specimens are found significantly over-priced. Note that the ordering of the specimens, based on marketplace rarity, do not necessarily reflect the rarities published by Chibbaro.
Collectors who use the following pricing guide will find they can often cherry-pick the rarest specimens, and pass-over the over-priced specimens.
Presentation of Specimen Types
The following plates are photographs of each of the confirmed W.W. Wilbur token varieties. Rarities are listed using the Chibbaro Rarity Scale.
Notes and Sources
†. Rarities are listed using the Chibbaro Rarity Scale. See Numismatic FAQs for more information.
Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004, pg.403
The Charleston Mercury Newspaper Archives
Correspondence with Tony Chibbaro, South Carolina Numismatist and Historian
‘The Tokens of W.W. Wilbur of Charleston S.C.,’ Tony Chibbaro, South Carolina Numismatist and Historian
A Guide Book of United States Tokens and Medals, Katherine Jaeger, Whitman, ©2008
The Library of Congress Digital Archives