Coney Island’s Elephantine Colossus Tokens

The Elephantine Colossus was built on Coney Island in 1885. Prior to the the Statue of Liberty, it was the first man-made landmark seen by immigrants as they steamed into New York harbor. The mammoth building served as a hotel, museum, observatory, and even a brothel …
The Elephantine Colossus and later, Elephant Bazaar

The Elephantine Colossus and later, Elephant Bazaar

Architected and designed by James V. Lafferty, an entrepreneurial developer, the Elephantine Colossus was erected in Brooklyn’s Coney Island in 1885. Upon its construction, it became an immediate tourist draw.

The structure was located above Surf Avenue and West 12th Street, and required more than 3.5 million board feet of lumber to erect it.

Its construction prior to the erection of the Statue of Liberty, the Elephantine Colossus for a time served as the first man-made landmark seen by immigrants as they approached New York harbor.

Jumbo Sea Shore Novelty Elephantine Colossus

The building itself served as a hotel, entertainment venue, museum, and later, even a brothel. Ingeniously laid out, its main entrance was located at one of its toes, and spiraled upward its left hind leg. There inside, visitors could traverse to a hotel, an entertainment venue, a museum, and later, even a brothel.

At the top of the elephant’s back was a howdah, where a gilded observation deck was placed. At 176 feet above the ground, the deck provided visitors with a panoramic view of the ocean, Brooklyn, and New York City skyline.

The Observation Deck provided a panoramic view with its perch at 176 Feet High

The Observation Deck provided a panoramic view with its perch 176 feet high

Inside the elephant there were approximately 31 different rooms, including a large hall measuring 92 x 38 feet. The length of the elephant’s body was 109 feet, and each of its 4 legs are 60 feet long. Its ears were 40 feet wide.

Elephantine Colossus AblazeOver the next few years the landmark’s popularity waned. There were several attempts by various ownership to reinvent the colossus, even at one point renaming it the Elephant Bazaar.

All attempts were met with limited success.  By the mid 1890s much of the retail space inside and around the landmark grew vacant.  Whereby once it was regarded as an architectural wonder, it had become simply a gaudy novelty.

Unfortunately, the life of the Elephantine Colossus itself was short lived. The wooden lumber used in its construction was the key to its own demise.

In September 1896 the structure caught fire, and quickly erupted into an inferno. The fire was merciless, and consumed the entire animal to ashes. In a mere few hours, the structure had been burnt to the ground.

Numismatic Specimens

There are eight total tokens associated with the Elephant Colossus and Bazaar.  The first seven were struck and issued while the property was ‘The Elephantine Colossus,’ and the eight was struck and issued after the property became the ‘Elephant Bazaar.’   It is accurate to conclude that the eighth token was issued last.

Elephantine Colossus & Bazaar table of varieties

Below are three example specimens.  Each was emitted as an advertising piece during the course of its short life.  The first two specimens were struck in its early years, while the third was struck later, after its name had been changed to the “Elephant Bazaar.”

The first token was struck in brass and holed, and measures 32mm in diameter.  Its dies were prepared by Robert Sneider & Co of New York.  It is approximately Choice AU in grade.

Rulau NY-Bkn-20 Elephantine Colossus  The second token was struck in white metal, and uses the same obverse and reverse dies as the first.  Like its brass counterpart, it is also holed as usual.  It is approximately MS-63 in grade.

Rulau NY-Bkn-22A Elephantine Colossus

The third token was struck after the landmark had transferred ownership.  Measuring significantly smaller in diameter, it measures 22.3mm.  Rulau does not report which firm prepared the dies. However, clearly they were much more inferior in both workmanship and artistic quality.

Rulau NY-Bkn-24 Elephant Bazaar

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. ‘Seeing the Elephant at Coney Island,’ Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Saturday, July 25, 1885, pg.370, Issue 1557
  2. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sunday, May 24, 1885
  3. Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
  4. 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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