Very little is known about the enigmatic John Burns token of Staunton Virginia. Schenkman lists no such token in his Virginia Tokens book, and there exists no Miller number. Rulau has but one scant listing in his Volume 4 edition, Va-St-2, where he attributes the mysterious token to Staunton Virginia. Aside from Rulau’s listing, there exists no other catalog number for the token.
On the token’s reverse is Seated Liberty, similar in style and size to U.S. dimes of the same type. On the token’s obverse is its denomination of 2½ cents, as well as the words “Dime Saloon” and “John Burns.” The token was made and struck by J. F. W. Dorman Stencil Company in Baltimore, MD. This can be confidently averred because the obverse of the token is stock die, and was used on many other storecards definitively struck by Dorman.
Pursuant to recent research, I have discovered that John Burns was an Irish immigrant, born in 1846. Sometime thereafter, he emigrated to the United States.
The first clue to his presence in the United States is a record from the 1870 Census. Pursuant to page 117 of Schedule 1, Inhabitants in the 1st District, in the County of Augusta, State of Virginia, enumerated on July 19th 1870, #29, a single line denotes his existence. As his trade, he is listed as a Bar Keeper, and his place of birth being Ireland. He is listed as being a resident of the Virginia Hotel, a popular inn of its day in Staunton Virginia.
The next piece of evidence which confirms his existence, and assists in verifying the attribution of the token is a listing in the 1881-1882 Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Directory. In the section for Augusta County, on page 274, under the heading of Saloons, there exists a single line listing of a business, under “Burns John, 111 S. August Street.”
Finally, as further evidence that there was indeed a person named John Burns in Staunton Virginia, an entry in History of Augusta County, Virginia, John Lewis Peyton, pg.264 lists John Burns as being a member of the Staunton City Council, functioning in the capacity as Chairman Committee on Fire Department.
Below is a street map from the 1890s that includes John Burns’ saloon. At the time, the building’s address was 111 S. Augusta Street.
Below is a photograph from the 1960s that includes the building which originally housed the John Burns’ saloon. Just beyond the “Restaurant” sign on the right, is where it was located. In the early 20th century street addresses were renumbered.
Making way for a parking lot in the 1970s, the building was razed.
Rulau lists the token as having been struck and issued in the 1860’s. I possess doubt as to whether this decade is correct. Another token that uses Dorman’s stock Seated Liberty die, a Smith & Wicks 5-cent piece, was struck in the 1870’s. Furthermore, though plausible, if Burns’ token was indeed struck in the 1860’s, it would have meant that John Burns was between the ages of 13-22 when he was proprietor of his saloon.
It is my opinion that the token more plausibly dates to the mid-to-late 1870’s, if not later into the early 1880’s.
Below please find two tokens. The first specimen is a Smith & Wicks token for comparison purposes, using Dorman Stencil’s stock obverse die.
The second specimen is the John Burns token that also uses Dorman Stencil’s stock obverse die. I estimate the token to be Very Fine in grade.
As of the date that this article was written, a census conducted by Schenkman confirms that 7 or 8 of these tokens are known to exist. That gives this specimen a rarity rating of R-8 on the Fuld rarity scale.
More details about the wording of “DIME SALOON” to follow at a later date.
Notes and Sources
Michael Fies Collection
Family Search: United States Federal Census for the Year 1870 – Augusta County, VA
The Library of Congress Digital Archives
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Directory 1881-1882
City of Staunton VA Public Archives
History of Augusta County, Virginia, John Lewis Peyton, 1882, pg.264
Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
Virginia Tokens, David Schenkman, The Virginia Numismatic Association, ©1980
- Correspondence with David Schenkman