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Paris contacts opened token door
By Ray Bows M/Sgt. U.S. Army (retired)
April 18, 2017

While stationed with the U.S. Army and living in Paris in the mid-1960s, I received a myriad of world coins from multiple sources. Within a short period of time I had probably become slightly jaded regarding certain obsolete world coin issues, and rapidly began accumulating and collecting tokens, which within a brief time, I realized had mintages well below those of regularly issued world coins.

Some of the first token necessity pieces that I located were at a small tourist office near Gare du Nord (the North Station), where the agent, Monsieur Charles, delved in minor collectible coins as a respite from his mundane duties dealing with travelers and tourists. He always seemed to have one container full of tokens that he accurately and judiciously separated from world coins. He was always eager to explain the differences between a coin and a necessity issue and taught me how to read into them and decipher their purpose.

The modern-day Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000, explains the Spanish Civil War simply and adequately at the end of its section on Spain, illuminating facts including that between 1936 and 1939 “a great many coins and tokens were minted in the provincial districts.” However, back in 1965 there were no readily available catalogs like this on the subject and I found Monsieur Charles to be a great source of knowledge.

Sometime in the early 1970s, I found a small monograph on Spanish necessity pieces in which I located the listing for my very first Spanish token find, an XF/AU piece from Ibi, Spain, dated 1937, listed as KM-2. Initially I thought it might be some kind of juke box token when I picked it up for a few francs, and I had no idea that its marking IBI indicated a town in Spain. Of course, Monsieur Charles set me straight.  Shortly after finding the IBI piece, other Spanish pieces would make their way to my hands.   

In his Tokens of Spain, the late, Russ Rulau categorizes most Spanish Mavericks into the category of “gaming counters”, while, in fact, many are simply unidentified trade and necessity tokens.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of other interesting tokens from numerous European countries were items that came into my possession often.

There must have been a greater liaison between France and Latin American countries than most of us can imagine, although mariners from the ports of France, including Le Harve, Bordeaux, Marseilles and Nice must have traveled to a great degree to ports in South and Central America.

Shell cards, encased postage stamps, cardboard chits and vulcanite tokens were all thrown into the mix in Paris “junque” boxes.

While on the subject of seemingly scarcer tokens that were among my finds way back when, I probably shouldn’t forget some of the more common pieces that seemed to pop up now and then. Two of the tokens that I saw from time to time were two pieces from Rome that most definitely were made by the same manufacturer, apparently struck at the end of World War II.

In the years that followed, my initial interest in European tokens would lead me to collect Civil War and Hard Times tokens; and world car wash, parking, transportation, telephone, advertising and trade tokens; shell cards, tool checks, Masonic tokens, and apothecary and coin weights.

Most of all I would be thrown into the realm of military tokens, be they Sutler or Post Trader tokens, Post Canteen or Post Exchange, from the Siege coinage of the Napoleonic Wars to slot machine tokens used by U.S. Forces in Vietnam. Certainly my days in Paris were just the beginning and the token “FOR AMERICAN ENLISTED MEN” was one of the items that sparked my interests.   

Ray Bows is the author of IN HONOR AND MEMORY: INSTALLATIONS AND FACILITIES OF THE VIETNAM WAR. The hardbound 800-page book, listing 3,600 Vietnam locations, can be purchased through It pays homage to 800 servicemen who lost their lives in Vietnam and had facilities named in their honor. Each is an individual listing. Bows’ address is P.O. Box 1865, New Smyrna, FL 32170.

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