Being born in 1853 to an oysterman and his wife in the village of Absecon in New Jersey, John Lake Young spent his life living along the Atlantic shore. A scrappy and enterprising individual, even as a young boy, Young was a businessman who had a talent for eyeing potential business opportunities and turning them into profitable ventures.
Having been left fatherless at the young age of three, he forgoed attaining a formal education and pursued working instead to support himself and his mother.
By the age of 30, Young was working as a carpenter, performing patch and repair work for the Atlantic City boardwalk and its pavilions. One day while working, Young came upon meeting Steward McShea, a successful baker from Philadelphia.
With Young’s entrepreneurial ideas and McShea’s capital to invest, the two hatched a plan to launch a money-making venture.
Leveraging the popularity of roller-skating at the time, as partners the two built a rink, and opened it for business.
Immediately the rink was a popular hit, and partners quickly earned a lot of money.
Around the same time in 1884, Applegate’s Pier was constructed at the foot of Tennessee Avenue. Standing at 625 feet long, and built with multiple decks, it featured an ice water fountain as one of its main attractions.
Though not the actual first pier built, Applegate’s Pier was the first successful amusement pier built in Atlantic City.
When the popularity of skating waned, Young and McShea decided to refocus their business strategy.
Choosing a location opposite Applegate’s Pier, the partners erected a carousel.
Built by renowned merry-go-round designer Gustav Dentzel, the new ride attracted legions of children and adults alike.
With this new venture, the partners made even more money than they had with their roller-skating rink.
The carousel operated every day of the week. On Sundays, hymns were played on the carousels organs, hymnals were provided to riders, and riders would sing along to the organ music. Sundays proved to be one of the most popular days for ridership on Young and McShea’s carousel.
By 1891 their partnership had amassed enough profits to purchase Applegate’s Pier. Immediately they expanded the pier’s length to 2,000 feet. They renamed it Young’s Ocean Pier, and installed rides, midway games, and even an electric trolley.
To attract more crowds, the two installed an aquarium, ballrooms, and booked regular band concerts. Vaudeville show performances were given in the pier’s theatre.
With the increased earnings from the pier’s improved entertainment, Young and McShea also began raising rents on the merchants who occupied stalls and shops on the pier.
At the end of the pier visitors were permitted to fish for a fee. And ever the performer himself, Young organized a daily afternoon show, where net hauls of fish were unloaded to the enjoyment of spectators.
By some accounts, Young could identify upwards of forty-eight different species of sea creatures caught within his nets, including those which were weren’t even native to the Atlantic Ocean!
Naturally, as with their earlier efforts, the pier was an immediate money-making operation. So profitable, indeed, that McShea retired in 1897, leaving the pier in the sole ownership of Young.
In addition to the fishing and entertainment, Young installed one of Atlantic City’s first amusement rides in 1902, christening it “The Flip-Flap Railroad.” Featuring a 360-degree vertical loop, the ride was actually a rollercoaster, and was an immediate hit with thrill seekers.
Unfortunately, the shape of the rollercoaster’s loop was more of a true circular loop, rather than teardrop-shaped loops that are employed in modern-day rollercoasters.
As a result, riders felt forces of up to 12-gs while traversing the circle. Although many passengers complained and suffered from neck and back injuries, surprisingly the coaster remained in operation until 1912.
Shortly thereafter, in the same year, a fire destroyed Young’s Pier. But ever the showman, Young took advantage of the tragedy. Young charged curious onlookers nickel admission to get a closer look while workers disassembled the charred remnants of his burned-out pier.
Below please find several numismatic specimens. Traversing twenty years of emissions, each represents the progression of Young’s entrepreneurial ambitions, as well as his pier.
The first specimen heralds from Applegate’s Pier. Listed as NJ-AC-6. It is estimated that the token was struck sometime during the mid to latter 1880s. Such a timeframe fits the period prior to when Young and McShea acquired Applegate’s Pier. Incuse struck on brass and scalloped, the specimen had a value of 5-cents.
The second specimen also dates from Applegate’s Pier. Listed as NJ-AC-3. Rulau estimates the token was struck sometime between 1889 and 1890. Such a date still corresponds to the Applegate era, prior to when Young and McShea acquired the pier.
In parlance of the day, a “Palace of Flying Animals” was another name for a carousel or merry-go-round. Struck in brass, the token measures 29mm in diameter, and shares an obverse die with an omnibus token (Durkee & Co., New York City) that was issued in the 1840s.
The third is a Young & McShea merry-go-round token, photographed using axial lighting. This token was used by riders as an admission check. Riders would present the token to the carousel operator just prior to climbing the ride. Like omnibus tokens, it is theorized that the tokens were holed so that the operator could easily string passenger tokens together.
The fourth specimen is a Young & McShea’s Amusement Company carousel token. Cataloged as NJ-AC-39 and as with NJ-AC-36, the token was used by riders as an admission check. Riders would also present the token to the carousel operator just prior to climbing the ride. Unlike the previous specimen, however, this token was struck in hard rubber.
The fifth specimen is a Young’s Amusement Company carousel token, listed as NJ-AC-33. Like the two brass and rubber specimens above, the token was also used as an admission check. Like the previous specimen, this token was also struck in hard rubber. Dropped from its obverse is McShea’s name, thereby signalling the timeperiod after Young took sole possession of the venture.
It is noteworthy that this specimen shares the same horse-rider device. And in tandem with the evolution of Young’s businesses, the token was issued sometime in the late 1890s.
The next specimen pictured is a Young’s Pier Atlantic City Admission Ticket. Issued in the value of 5-cents, patrons used these cartouches to obtain passage onto Young’s Pier structure.
In his 2004 book, Rulau has no listing for this specimen. But based on the timeframe of Young’s business, it most probably was issued sometime between 1891-1905. At the latest, it would have been 1912, prior to the destruction of the pier by fire.
Unlike the other specimens, cartouches were made using celluloid material. Celluloid is extremely flammable, and prone to deterioration.
Below is a listing of all known Young’s Pier Atlantic City cartouches:
Unfortunately no rarity can be assigned to the specimen listed below. However, it can be assumed that surviving examples are quite rare.
The final specimen illustrated below is a Young’s Pier Flip-Flap Railroad ticket in the value of 10-cents. Listed by Rulau as Atl-25, and issued about 1905, this cartouche is indeed quite rare.
Rulau lists but only one example known to exist. However, pursuant to ongoing research, there are several in existence.
UPDATE – June 24th 2012:
A specimen sold on May 29, 2012 on ebay (item number: 200766113552).
Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the specimen was sold by Ed Atkins, who is a long time New Jersey numismatist and collector.
Upon contact, Atkins explained that several years ago he was able to acquire 5 of these specimens from an individual who was widowed to a descendant of John Lake Young himself. The gentleman’s wife was a niece of John Lake Young, and had held onto them throughout her life.
Given the uncertainty as to actual surviving numbers, further discussion ensued, and a rough census was calculated as to known surviving specimens. The estimated census was conducted correlating various collectors that were definitively known to actually possess the cartouche. The result is the following:
Thus, based on this informal census of 12 known to exist, and using the Fuld rarity scale, this specimen has an estimated rarity rating of R-7.
Notes & Sources
- ‘Carousel, ‘Texas Monthly, Stephanie Chernikowski, Apr ©1975, Vol. 3, No. 4, pg.92
- A New Jersey Anthology, Maxine N. Lurie, Rutgers University Press, ©2002, pgs.251-252
- Amusement Parks of New Jersey, Jim Futrell, Stackpole Books, ©2004, pgs.27-28
- The Daily Union History of Atlantic City and County New Jersey, John F. Hall, The Daily Union Printing CO, 1900, pg.145,515
- Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
- The Library of Congress Digital Archives
- Ed Atkins, Long time New Jersey Exonumist and Researcher