"The Drunkard's Home," Mid-19th Century Wood Engraving

“The Drunkard’s Home,” Mid-19th Century Wood Engraving

During the middle part of the 19th century Anti-Liquor sentiments were quite predominant in the United States. Known as the ‘Temperance Movement’, it was believed that many of the ills of society [at the time] could be directly attributable to the consumption of alcohol.

More fundamentally, it was believed that in order for man to achieve true liberation and freedom, alcoholic beverages would have to be banished from society.

New York Temperance Token - New Yorks Prohibitory Law 1850sIt was for these reasons that the Temperance Movement grew in popularity. State by state, as the movement flourished and gained political clout, alcoholic beverages were banned and prohibited. Almost overnight what was before legal under the statutes of various state laws suddenly became illegal.

On April 9th 1855 New York State passed its own version of Prohibition, entitled: An Act for the Prevention of Intemperance, Pauperism, and Crime.

Immediately following passage of these various state laws, many of these legislative acts were challenged in courts. They were considered too controversial and were viewed as infringements on individual personal liberties.

Very quickly thereafter, one-by-one and state-by-state, the laws were deemed unconstitutional. In New York, their Prohibition law was struck down by its Supreme Court in that same year.

It wasn’t until passage of the 18th Amendment that the constitutionality of Prohibition was Federally addressed: Alcohol was banned nationwide. Quickly thereafter, it became quite apparent that the lofty views held by the Temperance Movement were quite Utopian. Indeed, many argue the Amendment itself made matters worse.

New York Temperance Token - Catalogue of the New York State LibraryOn December 5th 1933 the 21st Amendment was ratified. Its passing repealed the 18th Amendment. Most ironically, it was the 21st Amendment (Section 2) which finally addressed the constitutionality of state liquor laws that started many of the controversies at the states’ level some 80 years prior. With its passage, the Federal Government inured to the States such rights to decide and legislate the legality of alcohol within each of the several states therein. Very quickly thereafter liquor again flowed legally in nearly all of the 48 states, but not without some of the societal ills remaining, caused by the passage of the 18th Amendment in the first place.

Numismatic Specimen

Pictured below is a bronze Temperance Token which commemorates the passage of New York’s Prohibition Law. Although not precisely known, the specimen was struck sometime shortly before 1856-1857, as such a specimen is described in the Catalogue of New York State Library – 1856 Maps, Manuscripts, Engravings, Coins, etc., published in 1857.

The specimen is approximately Extra Fine in grade. As was customary for these tokens, they were most frequently holed.

NYSL-133 New York Prohibitory Passage 1855

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. The National Temperance Offering: And Sons and Daughters of Temperance Gift, Samuel Fenton Cary, 1850
  2. Catalogue of the New York State Library, New York State, 1856
  3. ‘The Prohibitory Law – An Act for the Prevention of Intemperance, Pauperism and Crime,’ The New York Times, April 6 1855
  4. The Unconstitutionality of the Prohibitory Liquor Law Confirmed, The Metropolitan Society, 1855
  5. The United States Constitution – 18th and 21st Amendments

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The author has over 30 years experience in North American numismatics. He is the author of numerous articles about exonumia, including those about tokens, scrip, and the public who used them. He is a member of the ANA, VNA, ACC, C4, CWTS, TAMS, MD-TAMS, AVA, NSCA, and NumisSociety.

3 Responses to “New York’s 1855 Prohibitory Law & Temperance Token” Subscribe

  1. Tim Howk November 25, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

    While metal detecting in North Creek, New York, I found one of these tokens. Thank you for the information.

    • Aaron Packard December 8, 2015 at 4:43 am #

      You’re welcome Tim. Glad you found this helpful.

      Aaron Packard


  1. History of this old medal? - June 9, 2013

    […] like it. Put in on a gold chain and wear it to the bar. Here is some history: http://www.novanumismatics.com/numis…perance-token/ […]

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