William H. Richardson was an umbrella, parasol, and sunshade manufacturer and retailer in Philadelphia during the mid-19th century. During the era, parasols and sunshades were quite popular, and used by ladies to shield themselves from the rays of the sun. Though parasols and sunshades were unsuitable for use in rain because of the materials used to construct them, umbrellas like those used today were used instead to shield pedestrians from inclement weather.
Richardson had invented several variations of umbrellas and parasols. One umbrella doubled in use as a cane, employing a handle at its end which, when the umbrella was folded, also acted as a handle while being used as a cane. Another one of his umbrella models doubled as a sleeper — the handle could be converted into a head rest, and used for sleeping while traveling via buggy. A third innovation was Richardson’s compact umbrella, which could be folded, reduced, and packed into a truck. One other innovation included creating lightweight umbrellas; his rectangular steel tube model is said to have only weighed 9 ounces.
In addition to these, Richardson also patented several features for his umbrellas, including:
During Richardson’s era, Philadelphia was a city well known for its umbrella manufacturing. Of the several factories and merchants who fashioned and sold them, Richardson was renowned throughout the Eastern United States for fabricating quality products.
By mid-century, the Philadelphia area employed about 2,500 individuals involved directly and indirectly in their manufacture. The typical employee was female, and earned anywhere from $2 to $5 per week.
In 1847 Philadelphia became such a predominate manufacturer that its total sales only rivaled Paris, France. By 1853, approximately $2,000,000 in sales of umbrellas and parasols were achieved from their manufacture in Philadelphia alone.
Below are several William H. Richardson tokens. During the decade which these tokens were struck, Richardson moved his establishment several times, as evidenced by the addresses struck on his storecards.
The first token, Miller PA-416, dates to 1844 and was struck in brass. I estimate it to be AU in grade.
The second token, Miller PA-418, dates to the 1850s. Also struck in brass it is MS63 in grade, with 60% brightness.
The next token, Miller Pa-419, dates to circa 1853. Struck in copper, I estimate it to be choice uncirculated in grade.
The next token, Miller Pa-420, dates to circa 1853. Silvered brass, it has EF-40 Details. Much of its silvering has been removed, most probably intentionally.
The next token, Miller Pa-421A, dates to circa 1850s. It is MS64 in grade at 80% brightness.
The next token, Miller PA-421B also dates to the 1851s. Despite its darker obverse surface, the specimen is Choice AU at 20% brightness.
The next token, Miller Pa-422, dates to 1859. Also struck in brass, I estimate its grade to be choice uncirculated.
The next token, Miller PA-423 dates to circa 1845. Struck in brass, the specimen is approximately EF in grade.
The next token, Miller Pa-424, dates to 1845. Also struck in brass, it has Extra Fine Details due to its surface scratches.
The next token, Miller PA-427 dates sometime from 1846 to 1850. It is approximately Choice AU in grade at 30% brightness.
The next token, Miller NY-657 has beautiful mirror surfaces. It is Mint State in grade, and dates to the 1850s. The New York City tokens were struck as storecards for Richardson’s New York City retail stores.
The next token is neither listed in Adams or Rulau. It is the same variety as the NY-657 pictured above, but was struck in copper. It is a discovery specimen acquired from Richard J. Crosby.
The final token, Miller NY-658, dates to the 1850s. Struck to advertise Richardson’s store in New York City, it is also struck in brass, and is MS-63 in grade.
Notes and Sources
Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
Philadelphia and Its Manufactures: A Hand-Book, Edwin Troxell Freedley, 1858, pg.392
Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1864 Volume 1, United States Government Printing Office, 1864, pg. 307
Library of Congress Archives