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When Tokens Take the Spotlight
March 20, 2009

I had lunch with Russ Rulau yesterday. He was venturing out after having had a bad case of the flu that seems to be going around Iola this month.

He mentioned that he had lost nine pounds in the illness siege but was eating heartily at the Crystal Cafe to begin the process of regaining that weight.

We talked of many subjects, but one of note comes to mind. Even at the age of 82 he is working hard to maintain has database of token information.

He has authored books on Hard Times tokens, the tokens of Latin America and the magnum opus, Standard Catalog of United States Tokens, which incorporated the earlier Hard Times token work as well as those he wrote on merchant tokens and other subsets of the field.

Tokens have waxed and waned in popularity. They are truly historical American numismatic output. The Hard Times tokens are particularly apt today because they chronicled the sorry state of American business and finance in the 1830s and the political brinkmanship of the period between President Andrew Jackson and his opponents in Congress.

Jackson took an expansive view of the Presidency. He vetoed legislation he did not like or that he thought was contrary to the interests of ordinary citizens.

That may not sound particularly noteworthy except for the fact that previous Presidents vetoed bills only if they thought they were unconstitutional.

Jackson's veto pen vastly expanded presidential power. The famous Jackson token declaring, "I Take the Responsibility," showing him with sword in right hand and a money bag in the left over a strongbox makes a great deal of sense when seen in this light.

For now, gold bullion is overshadowing tokens, but Rulau is preparing for the day when tokens are back in the limelight and the inevitable explosion in values when they catch up to the recent gains registered by coins.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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