James E. Wolff
James E. Wolff

James E. Wolff, a proprietor of hats, caps, and furs in Petersburg Virginia, issued his circulating tokens in the 1850s before the American Civil War.

Born on October 4th 1812, Wolff grew up in Petersburg, spending all of his childhood and adult life in the southern Virginia city.

As a means to advertise his business, his tokens were traded, issued, and exchanged at a value of one cent.

Whenever a caller conducted business with his store, and change was given back to the customer, Wolf would substitute a U.S. cent whenever possible with one of his tokens.

As was common during the era, small town merchants oftentimes issued their own small change, and other merchants within the community would accept the pieces in reciprocity.

Of the various permutations of metal compositions, edges, and planchets, 10 varieties of his tokens were produced.

Copper, brass, tin, and German Silver emissions were produced. Some of his emissions have reeded edges, others without, and some with thicker flans. All of his tokens featured his prominent top hat obverse, with a running wolf reverse device.

Sketch of Petersburg Virginia in the 19th Century
Sketch of Petersburg Virginia in the 19th Century

In addition to the emissions produced for trade, collector strikes were also minted later.  The reverse devices for the collector strikes include the Union Shield, the United States flag, a $5 “Good For”, and a coin-dealer mule.

During the Civil War, Wolff earned himself southern notoriety for his military service in the CSA.

When the rebellion began, he raised a militia of southern troops in which he was subsequently elected captain.

In June 1864, while fighting Federal forces south of Petersburg, his company was decimated.  Of the 125 troops in his militia, only 47 survived the battle unscathed.

Wolff himself was captured by union forces and taken prisoner of war.

It wasn’t until 5 months later in November 1864 that Wolff was released during a prisoner exchange.

After the Civil War, Wolff switched his line of work and entered the insurance trade. Practicing with his son William, he continued this business until his death in 1884, when he died of apoplexy‡.

Numismatic Specimens

A total of 17 varieties of the James E. Wolff tokens have been documented.  The first 9 specimens were struck for circulation and emitted during the 1850s.  The remaining 8 were mulings, and were struck from 1863 through 1871.  The following table indexes the varieties.

Below is a Miller VA-18, Schenkman VA-3960-ANa. Struck on a copper planchet and with a plain edge, it grades at MS-60.  As this specimen was an earlier strike, it was struck with the intention of being circulated in commerce.

Miller VA-18

Below is a Miller VA-20, Schenkman VA-3960-ANd.  Struck on a brass planchet and with a plain edge, it grades at MS-63.

This specimen is also an earlier strike, and thus was also struck with the intention of being circulated.

Miller VA-20

Below is a Miller VA-20B, Schenkman VA-3960-ANd. Struck on a thinner brass planchet and reeded, it grades at MS-62.

Likewise as the above specimen, this specimen is also an early strike. Therefore it too was struck with the intention of being circulated.

Miller VA-20B

And similiarly below is a Miller VA-22, Schenkman VA-3960-ANg. Struck in German Silver and plain-edged, it too grades at MS-62.

As the with the  previous three specimens, it was also an earlier strike, and thus was struck with the intention of being circulated.

Miller VA-22

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
  2. Virginia Tokens Revised 2nd Edition, David Schenkman and Eric Schena, The Virginia Numismatic Association, pgs. 372-374 ,©2004
  3. A Guide Book of United States Tokens and Medals, Katherine Jaeger, Whitman, ©2008
  4. The Library of Congress Digital Archives
Aaron Packard

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