Railroad Depot Eccles, West Virginia, circa early 20th Century
Railroad Depot Eccles, West Virginia, circa early 20th Century

Situated in Raleigh County, West Virginia, the town of Eccles is thought to have been named after the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Holy Bible. Not to be confused with Eccles Collieries in the UK, the town is located in the south central part of the state, about 5 miles from the city of Beckley.

During the 20th century several coal companies operated the mines located in Eccles. The most notable was the New River Collieries Company, owned by the Guggenheim family. But such notability wasn’t for a good reason. On the afternoon of April 28th 1914, an enormous explosion occurred at Mine No. 5, decimating the mine shaft and killing somewhere between 180-186 workers. Even for the time, the death count was quite high, and news of the explosion was widely reported throughout the United States.

Colliery at Eccles, West Virginia
Colliery at Eccles, West Virginia

The tragedy helped ignite widespread unionization and safety standards for mines located throughout the state. Among the dead were “trapper” boys who tended to the mine’s mules, several being “reportedly” as young as 14 years old. At the time, West Virginia law permitted those 14 years and older to work in the mines, however, no proof of age was actually required. As with other tragedies of the era involving child labor, news of the deaths triggered public calls for widespread labor reforms.

The explosion was so fierce that many of the bodies could not be readily identified. In fact, the only way many could be identified was by a unique brass check that each of the miners carried into the mine.

Trapper Boys, some alleged to be younger than 14 years old, were commonly employed in the mines at the time.
Trapper Boys were commonly employed in America’s coal mines at the time. An inexpensive source of labor, some were alleged to be younger than 14 years old, the state minimum at the time

This wasn’t the last time that tragedy befell the Eccles Mines. Twelve years later, in 1926, another explosion rocked Mine No. 5, killing 19. By this time Eccles’ mining interests had changed hands. The mines were owned and worked by the Crab Orchard Improvement Company.

Numismatic Specimen

Below please find an Exploder Token, in the denomination of 1-Detonator, issued by the Crab Orchard Improvement Company.

Miners who used explosives in the course of their work were issued exploder tokens. When they needed explosives, they would present a token to the explosives keeper, and the keeper would issue the miner an amount of explosive equal to the value stamped on the token. The value was in weight, type, sticks, etc.

It is estimated that the token was issued sometime between 1920 and 1940. Its aluminum planchet composition and punch-style is consistent with the period.

Schenkman C154, 1 Detonator, Eccles Colliery, Crab Orchard Improvement Co

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. Explosive Control Tokens, David Schenkman, NSCA, ©1989
  2. 20,000 Coal Company Stores, Gordon Dodrill, ©1971
  3. ‘Trapper Boys Among the Dead in West Virginia Mine,’ Edward Clopper, The Survey, Volume 32, April 14th, 1914, pg.194
  4. The Library of Congress Digital Archives
Aaron Packard

1 Comment

  1. According to a 1945 book listing the origins of place names in West Virginia, Eccles was named for a coal mining company official. Eccles is a common surname.

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