Slave Sale, Charleston South Carolina, Sketch by Eyre Crowe

Slave Sale, Charleston South Carolina, Sketch by Eyre Crowe

William W. Wilbur is infamous for having been an auctioneer who owned and operated a mercantile during the pre-Civil War era of Charleston, South Carolina. Wilbur’s business activities were quite varied, and included auctions, retail, brokering, notary, and most notoriously, being an active agent in the slave trade.

As a means to advertise, Wilbur issued storecard tokens to the public, and dispensed them to customers when giving change. The size of 1840s U.S. Large Cents, Wilbur’s tokens were traded at the value of one cent.

Wilbur & Son Auctioneers and Brokers

Newspaper Advertisement: The Charleston Mercury, Monday January 10, 1859

Research indicates that there wasn’t much that Wilbur wouldn’t sell or attempt to purvey. Advertisements from The Charleston Mercury beginning during the 1840s include Wilbur’s promotions for utensils and cutlery, stationery and books, tea and coffee, fruit trees and flowers. Moreover, his auction notices include offerings of real estate and land, estate sales and dry goods, and most horridly, slaves and servants.

Auctioneers' Private Sales Negro Boy By Wilbur & Son Thomas, prime nego boy, 12 years of age

Newspaper Advertisement: The Charleston Mercury, Thursday January 20, 1859

Charleston newspapers of the era confirm the existence of W.W. Wilbur’s ghastly slave trade, including, abominably, an advertisement for the sale of a 12 year old boy.

MotherAndChildren

Sadly, in another, the published results of an auction where a mother and her two children were sold for $1320.

Wilbur & Son sold also some servants - a woman and two children $1320

Newspaper Notice: The Charleston Mercury, Thursday April 14, 1859

Numismatic Overview & Recent Discovery

Until only recently, Tony Chibbaro, author of South Carolina Tokens, reported 12 different confirmed varieties of W.W. Wilbur tokens. In July 2010 the author, A. Packard, discovered a another variety. Struck in brass, the token was then silvered.

Portions of the silvering on the discovery piece was worn off due to circulation:

SC-8D, Obverse-2 (Period), Reverse-B (Bushy Tree), Silvered Brass

Discovery Specimen

Upon examination of token photographs, Tony Chibbaro wrote:

“I have looked over your pictures and can tell that your token is an unpublished variety! Your token is not German silver (which would make it Adams/Miller 8B, Rulau SC8B), but is silvered brass. This is decidedly a silvered brass planchet because the brass is plainly evident where the silver plating has worn off. This can easily be seen when looking at the figure of the auctioneer and the palmetto tree, both of which show the underlying brass planchet. I noted in my article that there were silvered brass examples of a different die linkage. Yours is the first silvered brass specimen reported in the die linkage 2-B.”

Varieties, Types, and Diagnostics

Due in part to the number of specimens that are available in various numismatic venues, it is plausible that many thousands of these tokens were minted. And due to the multitude of various varieties proffered, it’s most plausible that varieties of these tokens were minted over a period of several years.

With this recent discovery, there now exists 13 confirmed varieties of this token, with two distinct obverse types and three distinct reverse types. The various varieties consist of combinations of these obverse and reverses, in conjunction with various metal compositions.

The varieties are the following. Of all varieties, there exist 4 obverse types and two reverse types, pursuant to taxonomies by developed Tony Chibbaro.

Obverse Types

1. No period after ‘CA’

2. Period after ‘CA.’

3. Period after ‘CA.,’ also “GOING AT ONLY A PENNY”

4. No period after ‘CA,’ also “GOING AT ONLY A PENNY”

Reverse Types

A. Thin Tree

B. Bushy Tree

Though previously listed by Miller et.al. many years ago, Tony Chibbaro reports that those in light blue are presently unconfirmed:

1846 W.W. Wilbur Token Varieties Chart

For reference purposes, below please find Tony Chibbaro’s rarity scale that he uses to rate the quantity of remaining specimens still in existence:

Chibbaro Rarity Scale

Alternate Method for Determining Obverse Type-1 and Type-2

Alternate method for identifying WW Wilbur Token Obverse TypesWhile diagnosing my own specimens, I noticed that with worn examples sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the difference between Obverse Type-1 and Type-2, as the period after “CA” may be completely worn off.

The simplest way to assuredly identify a Type-1 obverse is to compare the placement of lettering between AUCTION and CHARLESTON. If the letter ‘L’ in CHARLESTON falls directly below the letter ‘N’ in AUCTION, it is an Obverse Type-1.

For Obverse Type-2, the letter ‘E’ in CHARLESTON falls directly below the letter ‘N’ in AUCTION.

Pricing

Pricing for the various W.W. Wilbur token varieties can be found in the following table.  More often than not, sellers on eBay do not price their specimens based on rarity or on variety type.

Thus, often the rarest specimens can be obtained for very little, and the most common specimens are found significantly over-priced.  Note that the ordering of the specimens, based on marketplace rarity, do not necessarily reflect the rarities published by Chibbaro.

Collectors who use the following pricing guide will find they can often cherry-pick the rarest specimens, and pass-over the over-priced specimens.

2016 W.W. Wilbur Pricing

Presentation of Specimen Types

The following plates are photographs of each of the confirmed W.W. Wilbur token varieties. Rarities are listed using the Chibbaro Rarity Scale.

SC-5, Obverse-1 (No Period), Reverse-A (Thin Tree), Brass

Above: Miller SC-5, Obverse Type-1 (No Period), Reverse Type-A (Thin Tree), Brass.
Chibbaro SC-1305-CQ, Rarity R-7 (9-15 specimens known)

SC-5a, Obverse-1 (No Period), Reverse-A (Thin Tree), Copper

Above: Miller SC-5a, Obverse Type-1 (No Period), Reverse Type-A (Thin Tree), Copper.
Chibbaro SC-1305-CR, Rarity R-7 (9-15 specimens known)

SC-6A, Obverse-2 (Period), Reverse-A (Thin Tree), Pre-Strike Silvered Brass

Above: Miller SC-6A, Obverse Type-2 (Period), Reverse Type-A (Thin Tree), Pre-Strike Silvered Brass.
Chibbaro SC-1305-CV, Rarity R-9 (3-4 specimens known)

SC-7, Obverse-2 (Period), Reverse-A (Thin Tree), Copper

Above: Miller SC-7, Obverse Type-2 (Period), Reverse Type-A (Thin Tree), Copper.
Chibbaro SC-1305-CT, Rarity R-6 (16-24 specimens known)

SC-7A, Obverse-2 (Period), Reverse-B (Bushy Tree), Copper

Above: Miller SC-7A, Obverse Type-2 (Period), Reverse Type-B (Bushy Tree), Copper.
Chibbaro SC-1305-CX, Rarity R-4 (50-99 specimens known)

SC-8, Obverse-2 (Period), Reverse-A (Thin Tree), Brass

Above: Miller SC-8, Obverse Type-2 (Period), Reverse Type-A (Thin Tree), Brass.
Chibbaro SC-1305-CU, Rarity R-3 (100-199 specimens known)

SC-8A, Obverse-2 (Period), Reverse-B (Bushy Tree), Brass

Above: Miller SC-8A, Obverse Type-2 (Period), Reverse Type-B (Bushy Tree), Brass.
Chibbaro SC-1305-CY, Rarity R-4 (50-99 specimens known)

SC-8B, Obverse-2 (Period), Reverse-B (Bushy Tree), German Silver

Above: SC-8B, Obverse Type-2 (Period), Reverse Type-B (Bushy Tree), German Silver.
Chibbaro SC-1305-CW, Rarity R-10 (1-2 specimens known)

SC-8C, Obverse-2 (Period), Reverse-B (Bushy Tree), Gilt Brass

Above: SC-8C, Obverse Type-2 (Period), Reverse Type-B (Bushy Tree), Gilt Brass.
Unlisted in Chibbaro’s book

SC-8D, Obverse-2 (Period), Reverse-B (Bushy Tree), Silvered Brass

Above: SC-8D, Obverse Type-2 (Period), Reverse Type-B (Bushy Tree), Silvered Brass.
Unlisted In Chibbaro’s Book. Discovery piece made by A. Packard

SC-9, Obverse-3 (Period), Reverse-B (Bushy Tree), Brass

Above: SC-9, Obverse Type-3 (Period), Reverse Type-B (Bushy Tree), Brass.
Chibbaro SC-1305-CZ, Rarity R-2 (200-499 specimens known)

SC-9A, Obverse-3 (Period), Reverse-B (Bushy Tree), Silvered Brass

Above: SC-9A, Obverse Type-3 (Period), Reverse Type-B (Bushy Tree), Silvered Brass.
Chibbaro SC-1305-DD, Rarity R-9 (3-4 specimens known)

SC-10, Obverse-3 (Period), Reverse-B (Bushy Tree), Copper

Above: SC-10, Obverse Type-3 (Period), Reverse Type-B (Bushy Tree), Copper.
Chibbaro SC-1305-DA Rarity R-4 (50-99 specimens known)

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

†. Rarities are listed using the Chibbaro Rarity Scale. See Numismatic FAQs for more information.

  1. Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004, pg.403
  2. The Charleston Mercury Newspaper Archives
  3. Correspondence with Tony Chibbaro, South Carolina Numismatist and Historian
  4. ‘The Tokens of W.W. Wilbur of Charleston S.C.,’ Tony Chibbaro, South Carolina Numismatist and Historian
  5. A Guide Book of United States Tokens and Medals, Katherine Jaeger, Whitman, ©2008
  6. The Library of Congress Digital Archives

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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.
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7 Responses to “The W.W. Wilbur Auctioneer Tokens, Charleston SC” Subscribe

  1. Mike Clements February 9, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Hi Aaron,
    Attached are a few photos of the Wilbur token that I mailed you about. I did no editing. Appreciate you viewing them. Let me know your assessment.

    Thank you, Mike Clements

    http://s95.beta.photobucket.com/user/wood5g/library/wilbur%20token

  2. Aaron Packard February 9, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    Hi Mike –

    Thanks kindly for sharing your photos.

    I am quite inclined to believe that the specimen was cleaned sometime in its past, and has begun to retone.

    This is most notably hinted on your reverse; the insides of looped letters (O, R, etc.) possess dark coloring as if the crevices weren’t reached by the cleaning. Similar hints are also evidenced on the obverse, but less pronounced, with the insides of letters such as A, R, etc.

    That said, your specimen is quite a beautiful example! It is a Miller SC-7A.

    A.P.

  3. Courtney madden December 10, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    I don’t know if anyone still reads this. I’ve acquired a set of slave shackles engraved W.W. Wilber lot 16 , Strong healthy African negroes. Do you know if this is the same Ww Wilber.

  4. Thomas Goggin April 15, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

    What is the best way to clean the token without harming it ?

    • Thomas Goggin April 16, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

      Thank you !

    • Aaron Packard July 2, 2017 at 4:41 pm #

      Don’t clean it. 🙂

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