National Toll Road

Engraving of the North-Western Turnpike (National) Road, 1849

Our nation’s first interstate, the National Road, traversed through Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Maryland. It was the United States’ first fully paved highway, funded and built by the Federal government. Providing a connection between the Potomac and Ohio Rivers, it initially stretched a distance of approximately 620 miles.

Known today as US Highway 40, it was built as a toll road, and charged fees to travelers who wished to use it.  Not unlike today’s turnpikes, travelers paid tolls in advance, prior to embarking on their journey.  Toll amounts were based on total distance traveled,  based on which exit travelers planned to disembark from the road.

The project started in 1811 at Cumberland, Maryland, at the headwaters of the Potomac River. Heading west, construction traversed the Allegheny Mountains, crossed through Pennsylvania, and continued onward where it reached the Ohio River by 1818, at Wheeling, West Virginia*.

From Wheeling westward,  construction continued, snaking through Ohio and terminating at Vandalia, Illinois, where the project finally stopped.  Originally planned to stretch even further westward, funding for the project evaporated during the Hard Times Era of the 1830s.

The Wheeling West Virginia Suspension Bridge

In the late 1840s, construction began for a suspension bridge at Wheeling, which spanned the Ohio River.  Until that time, the National Road was not contiguous, as no reliable crossing existed over the Ohio River.

The Wheeling West Virginia Suspension Bridge

Wheeling West Virginia Suspension Bridge, completed in 1849

Completed in 1849, the bridge was the longest suspension span in the world. Having thus become a part of the National Road, a toll gate was established that corresponded with the bridge.

A Short Discussion About Attribution Discrepancy

Like other gates along the National Road, travelers who wished to cross the bridge at Wheeling were charged a toll and issued a token. Struck on planed large cents and foreign coins, the blanked tokens were counterstamped with various numerical markings.

There exists a discrepancy as to whether these tokens were issued specifically for tolled exits along the entirety of the National Road, or whether they were specifically struck for crossing the Wheeling Wire Suspension Bridge in Wheeling, West Virginia.  The Atwood-Coffee Catalogue of Transportation tokens asserts the latter, while Brunk’s Counterstamped book asserts the former.

Given the number of issued numerical varieties, I posit that it makes more sense that they were issued for tolled exits along the entirety of the National Road. If they were struck solely for crossing the Wheeling Wire Suspension Bridge, it is confounding as to why there would be various numerical strikes in consecutive sequences of 5.

Table of Varieties

The following table lists all known National Road emissions, pursuant to Brunk and correlated with the Atwood-Coffee Catalogue. Rarity Ratings are sourced from Brunk. It should be noted that specimens exist in both “EAST” and “WEST” strikes with and without periods. Neither Brunk nor Atwood-Coffee makes a distinction.

Table of Varieties - National Road, Wheeling Wire Suspension Bridge Tokens

Numismatic Specimens

The following specimens originate from my cabinet and have taken considerable time to accumulate.

The first specimen is counterstruck as “THROUGH / 5 / WEST.”  Listed in the Atwood-Coffee Catalog as WV890D, it is attributed to the Wheeling Wire Suspension Bridge in Wheeling, West Virginia. However, listed in Brunk as T-251, it is attributed to the National Toll Road.  Brunk lists 2 known as extant, thus giving it a rarity rating of R-8.

Atwood WV890D, Brunk T-251

The second specimen is counterstruck as “THROUGH / 15 / WEST.”  Listed in the Atwood-Coffee Catalog as WV890J, it is attributed to the Wheeling Wire Suspension Bridge in Wheeling, West Virginia. However, listed in Brunk as T-256, it is attributed to the National Toll Road.  Brunk lists 3 known as extant, thus giving it a rarity rating of R-8.

Atwood WV890J, Brunk T-256

The third specimen is counterstruck as “THROUGH / 20 / WEST”  Listed in the Atwood-Coffee Catalog as WV890L, it is attributed to the Wheeling Wire Suspension Bridge in Wheeling, West Virginia. However, listed in Brunk as T-258, it is attributed to the National Toll Road.  Brunk lists 4 known as extant, thus giving it a rarity rating of R-7.

Atwood WV890L, Brunk T-258

The fourth specimen is counterstruck as “THROUGH / 30 / EAST.”  Listed in the Atwood-Coffee Catalog as WV890T, it is attributed to the Wheeling Wire Suspension Bridge in Wheeling, West Virginia. However, listed in Brunk as T-261, it is attributed to the National Toll Road.  Brunk lists 1 known as extant, thus giving it a rarity rating of R-9.

Atwood WV890T, Brunk T-261

The fifth specimen is counterstruck as “THROUGH / 35 / EAST.”  Listed in the Atwood-Coffee Catalog as WV890O, it is attributed to the Wheeling Wire Suspension Bridge in Wheeling, West Virginia. However, listed in Brunk as T-264, it is attributed to the National Toll Road.  Brunk lists 1 known as extant, thus giving it a rarity rating of R-9.

Atwood WV890O, Brunk T-264

In addition to tokens, paper scrip was also issued for use on the National Road. Redeemable for fare or cash, travelers could use the notes for stage coach service.

The specimen below was emitted by the Good Intent Stage Co.  Based out of Baltimore, their notes were payable at Wheeling or Cumberland.  This particular variety was redeemable in Cumberland, and hails from the Eric Schena Collection.

Listed as Jones/Littlefield PW20-41 and Shank 50.84.5, the note is R-6 in rarity.  Despite possessing damage, the specimen survives as a beautiful example.

The Good Intent Stage Co, 25 cents, Jones/Littlefield PW20-41 (R7H), Shank 50.84.5 (R6), Eric Schena

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. The Cabinet of Eric Schena, Numismatist
  2. Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins, 2nd Edition, Gregory G. Brunk, World Exonumia Press, ©2003
  3. The Atwood-Coffee Catalogue, John M. Coffee and Harold V. Ford, American Vectorist Association (AVA)
  4. Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004, pg. 108
  5. 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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3 Responses to “Our Nation’s First Interstate & Its Toll Tokens” Subscribe

  1. Brandy Estes April 24, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    Hello…I live in Ross,Ohio and a few years back my brother found some old tokens in a house that was being torn down in Hamilton.I was looking some of them up on google and one of them this site popped up.It is the through 20 East toll token.please reply back to let me know some more info on it and it’s value. Thank you so much
    Brandy Estes

    • Aaron Packard April 24, 2013 at 11:34 pm #

      Hi Brandy –

      Please contact me at my email address listed in the ‘Contact’ section.

      Please also include photographs of both sides (obverse and reverse.)

      Thank you,

      A. Packard

  2. Gretta Jean September 14, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    Hello Mr. Packard~ I have an Estate Sale service in

    Oklahoma. I am currently researching tokens for a client

    and found your site. I have been assigned to sell quite a

    large coin collection which also contains tokens~ I came

    across 2 tokens which say THROUGH 15 WEST and

    THROUGH 40 (over stamped 30) WEST. The 15 token

    has been drilled on the edge~ The have great patina

    and look like your above example with 20 in center. Any

    information is appreciated!

    Thank You!
    Gretta

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