Jim Bisognani: Political Tokens Worth Their Weight in Gold

Posted on 10/1/2020

The presidential election has had an impact on the scarcity of US gold.

Wow, what a thrill for sports fans this past Sunday! Teams from every major league played. While it is not an unusual sight to have MLB and NFL games overlapping this time of year, the NHL and NBA usually don’t join ranks until the beginning of their respective seasons in mid to late October. But in case you hadn’t noticed, these are not normal times as both of the latter leagues played their championship series in “bubbles,” sans fans.

Numismatic circuit readying for a reboot

As for the numismatic world, various venues are laying the groundwork for a long-awaited reboot. Yes, my fellow coindexters, ostensibly, major venues plan to open for business very soon. As of now, Winter FUN 2021 is a go, and the Long Beach Expo seems to be readying for a February 2021 return as well.

Just what the new social distancing safeguards will be and how they will impact the bourse for attendee dealers and patrons remain to be seen. It seems so long ago that I was anxiously waiting on floor reports from dealers and collectors. It will be refreshing, albeit a bit of a novelty, when live shows commence.

Metals remain resilient

As we usher in October, the appetite for rare and high-grade US and World coins maintains a frenzied demand. While the metals market experienced a bit of a sell-off a few weeks ago, it was relatively minor. As I am typing away on this bright and colorful autumn day, gold has rebounded and is again flirting with $1,900+ per ounce while silver rides steadily behind the yellow metal at $24 per ounce.

I believe the metals have shown marked resiliency and strength. Many pundits, dealers and collectors braced for a significant sell-off, yet those fears seem unwarranted for now. As one major trader noted, “The demand for US gold coins is unprecedented.” That sentiment is echoed by a host of others. Those vital mom-and-pop shops, as well as major firms, are putting up great sales numbers, yet replenishing inventories of gold Type coins is a tough road.

The gold standard

Gerry, a dealer hailing from Nevada, explained, “Early this year, when gold was making its power move, a lot of people were selling their scrap and coins to me. But now that it has been closer to the $2,000 level, no one seems to want to sell. Even with the recent drop in price, I still couldn’t pry much loose. I think a lot of people are more intent on buying and holding gold, given the uncertainty we are all facing.”

Another major California trader concurred. “It has been difficult buying quantities that I would like at this time. Much of the US gold is actually becoming scarce at these levels.”

Another dealer I spoke to on the East Coast said that he is finding a much broader market for medals and political memorabilia. “Perhaps it is because of the upcoming presidential election, but I have seen an obvious surge for Hard Times tokens and related campaign material. Tokens and medals stuck in gold are very popular, given the current “gold bug” climate.”

That goes for me as well. I confess that I am a history buff and political junkie. I have been since I was a kid.

I, too, share a similar passion for early campaign-themed copper, political memorabilia and related ephemera. When I can afford to, I love to pick up a few well-worn Hard Times and Civil War tokens. I really enjoy those historic coppers and especially relish the well-circulated ones.

History buff

Along with collecting coins, I began making audio recordings of all the presidential debates during my late teens. (Like I said, history and political buff.) I reasoned they were and would always be historically significant and a great reference resource. The first debate I recorded was Ford-Carter back in 1976.

I employed my trusty reel-to-reel recorder to capture the audio from the FM broadcast. In the ensuing years, I elevated my efforts to video recordings on both Beta and VHS tapes and have since moved up to archiving them on DVD. As I am writing this, we are just a few short hours away from the first of the 2020 presidential debates. Time to cue up my DVD recorder!

With this in mind, I decided to pull out one of my favorite political campaign tokens. I had purchased it from my good friend, Tom Hall, over 30 years ago, who said, “It was some kind of a tiny gold coin, maybe some variety of a California fractional gold coin.”

Tom was right that it was roughly the same size as a California fractional gold Quarter Dollar. However, it turned out the little 10mm gold piece was a President Garfield campaign token from 1880, which was struck in gold! Imagine today if either of the major parties’ campaigns had “gold giveaways” depicting their candidate!

A campaign relic in rare condition

Here it is, the 1880 Gold James A. Garfield Campaign Token (DeWitt-JG-1880-16) graded NGC AU 58. (I had it certified by NGC about five years ago).

1880 Gold James A. Garfield Campaign Token (DeWitt-JG-1880-16) graded NGC AU 58
Click image to enlarge.

As collectors and aficionados of this type of material will attest, many of the survivors of this diminutive 140-year-old presidential campaign relic have suffered some degree of impairment. Unfortunately, the few that come up for sale are often heavily polished, holed or both. And given the small size and soft composition, many have suffered a case of the “bends.” Yet this tiny gold piece has a truly original look to it.

Another example of the 1880 Gold James A. Garfield Campaign Token (DeWitt-JG-1880-16), this one graded NGC MS 62
Click images to enlarge.

Interestingly, the use of gold for this particular campaign token was apropos as President Garfield despised paper currency and desperately wanted the US to be on the gold standard. One of Garfield’s most memorable quotes illustrates this best: “Any party which commits itself to paper money will go down amid the general disaster, covered with the curses of a ruined people.” Hmm, I wonder what he really thought about it!

My friends, if you haven’t already done so, please register to vote!

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

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