Born in Germany on September 9th 1832, Johan “John’ Marr entered the engraving business at a very young age. Young, destitute, and barely a teenager, Marr found himself forced to live with a jeweler and engraver. In exchange for room and board, Marr was hired to care for the jeweler’s property.
Over time, the jeweler became Marr’s mentor, and for a period of about 5 years Marr worked as the jeweler’s apprentice.
In 1850 Marr emigrated to the United States, and found himself quickly hired as an engraver at the Colt gun factory in Hartford, Connecticut.
Six years later, Marr quit his position at Colt and moved to Wisconsin.
Upon his arrival in Milwaukee, Marr teamed up with Danish Engraver Peter Louis Mossin, and the two opened the engraving firm of Mossin & Marr.
Under their partnership, the firm quickly became profitable. Located at 86 Wisconsin Street in downtown Milwaukee, for the next 4 years the firm prospered.
Just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, in March of 1860 a large fire swept through several blocks of Milwaukee. Among its victims was the shop of Mossin & Marr.
Despite overwhelming odds, the firm survived. By the time the war began, the firm was fully back in operation. Once the war was in full swing, official U.S. coins quickly disappeared from circulation.
Merchants soon found themselves without enough change to conduct business. To quench the need, many firms chose to issue their own private tokens. Many of these merchants turned to Mossin & Marr, where they could order custom-made storecards to use when making change.
Many of the tokens Mossin & Marr produced featured beautiful designs. Most had flourished lettering. Others featured Native Americans, animals, and other artistic renderings.
Some of the tokens produced by Mossin & Marr include:
IL320E-2a – Freeport, Illinois – Helena Hertrich Freeport Brewery
WI55C-1a – Beaver Dam, Wisconsin – O.M. Warren
WI510C – Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Phillip Best Lager Beer
WI510I – Milwaukee, Wisconsin – D.J. Doornink
WI510AB – Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Friedrich Miller
WI510AE-4a – Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Carl Paeschke
WI510AG – Milwaukee, Wisconsin – J. Pritzlaff & Co
WI700F-1a – Racine, Wisconsin – Erhardt & Raps
In addition to their customers, the firm itself issued its own storecard. The unique and beautiful reverse was engraved by Marr, whose name appears at 7 o’clock. The token features a partially clothed Amazon woman. In her left hand she holds a flag of the United States, with a Liberty Cap affixed to the top of the flag pole. In her right hand she holds the Union Shield.
Cataloged by the Fuld brothers as CWT WI-510AD-1a, the token uses reverse die number 1220, and is classified on the Fuld Rarity Scale as an R-4:
Another store card token, WI510X-2a Louis Kurz – Pictorial Lithographer, R-6See Rarity FAQ for Rarity Scale, also uses Marr’s reverse 1220 die, as pictured below:
Another store card token, WI510A-1a E. Aschermann – Cigars & Tobacco, with a pictorial of a Native American on a charging horse, was also engraved by Marr. Designated as an R-5, the token is pictured below:
Civil War tokens were made illegal after Congress passed a law in April 1864 which prohibited the issuance of one or two-cent coins, tokens, or devices for use as currency. In June of the same year, Congress passed an additional law that forbade private coinages altogether. Shortly thereafter, in 1865, the partnership dissolved, and Marr pursued his commercial engraving activities alone for another decade.
In 1876 Marr went into business with wood-engraver George L. Richards. The pair specialized in engraving illustrations for use in books and newspapers. Much of Marr’s engravings entailed landscape and cityscape drawings.
Besides being an engraver, Marr was also a competent sculptor. In the early 1900’s, Marr produced a sculpture of Mark Twain. Marr’s drawing of his sculpture was published nationwide, in many prominent newspapers.
Marr’s son Carl von Marr, became a famous American painter. Marr himself lived until 1921.
Notes and Sources
Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
U.S. Civil War Store Cards Second Edition, George & Melvin Fuld, Quarterman Publications, ©1975
The Civil War Token Collectors Guide, Bryan Kanzinger, Valley Forge Coins-Books, ©2001
A Guide Book of United States Tokens and Medals, Katherine Jaeger, Whitman, ©2008
The Library of Congress Digital Archives
My Life – An Autobiography by John Marr (Translation from German into English), 1998.
John Marr, Museum of Wisconsin Art
Pioneer History of Milwaukee: 1854-1860, James Smith Buck, 1886
Milwaukee’s Great Industries, William J. Anderson, 1892