Collector's Corner: Lesher Dollars
By Michele Alice
What is "real" money? Some have argued that it is a universally desired commodity, like gold, that serves as a medium of exchange. Others have maintained that it is whatever a government decides to issue as "legal tender." And then you have those like Joseph Lesher, who decided to take matters into his own hands and make his own.
For most of the 19th Century, federal coinage, especially out West, was in relatively short supply, and people were often suspicious of paper currency. So, like many before him, Colorado entrepreneur Joseph Lesher began in 1900 issuing a series of silver tokens that could be redeemed for services or purchases from various merchants.
The 1-troy-ounce silver pieces had Lesher's imprint on one side and a merchant's name and serial number - they were numbered consecutively - on the other. Since only the federal government had the authority to mint "coins," Lesher's tokens had "Referendum Souvenir" stamped upon them and were octagonal in shape to distinguish them from official coinage.
Lesher issued his tokens for just two years. In 1900, they had a face value of $1.25; in 1901, the face value was $1.00. By all accounts, they were quite successful, but at one point Lesher ran afoul of federal officials when he began indicating on the pieces that they could be redeemed at banks.
Authority Adna G. Wilde, Jr. has concluded that, contrary to former estimates of 3000 to 3500, no more than 1870 of the pieces were ever issued, making them even rarer than previously thought. He has identified some 6 distinct types and 12 varieties of Lesher tokens, and has compiled an extensive table that is available at the American Numismatic Association (ANA) website (see resource section below).
Lesher dollars are considered among the rarest and most valuable of all tokens. Less than a third of the probable number issued have been thus far located, with the most common Leshers generally selling for $1000+, while the rarest specimens can fetch in the hundreds of thousands.
Now, that's real money!
If you would like to learn more about this interesting collectible, check out the resources listed below, and
American Numismatic Association (Link) - Great article by Adna G. Wilde Jr. on "Lesher Referendum Medals" includes detailed tables.
Lesher Dollars (Link) - Great "Gallery" pics provide lots of detail.
The Lesher Dollars (Link) - Article by Dr. Sol Taylor
So-Called Dollars (Link) - Provides information on Lesher and other token coins.
The Token and Medal Society (Link) - The Society's FAQ page explains difference between coins, tokens, and medals.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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