During the 19th century Philadelphia was the umbrella and parasol capital of the United States. Unlike the apparatus that we take for granted in modern times, during the 19th century the manufacture of these devices demanded skilled labor capable of crafting its various mechanical parts, all the while ensuring the finished instruments were both reliable and aesthetically pleasing.
As with many industries of the time that required a skilled labor pool, individuals with the know-how concentrated into one urban center. With umbrellas, parasols, and sunshades, Philadelphia became that urban center. The city at the time was also a major hub for ivory carving and bone turning, and thus provided key components for umbrella handles and ornaments.
By mid century, the umbrella and parasol industry in Philadelphia directly employed upwards of 1500 people, and via related industries, 2500. The majority of those employed were women and girls, who earned on average $2 – $5 per week.
The firm of Wm. A. Drown & Co was established by Erasmus Pierce the early 18th century. Following his daughter’s marriage, the firm changed names, and was headed by Pierce’s son-in-law William A. Drown. Soon after the marriage the two had a son, William Appleton Down Jr. At adulthood, the junior Down joined the firm, and succeeded leadership sometime thereafter.
The manufacturing operations at the company was enormous. At its height the firm’s factory complex spanned two city blocks, and consisted of 5 large buildings, offices, a lumber yard, a blacksmith shop, a foundry, a machine shop, and a 25 horsepower steam engine.
At its apex, the firm employed approximately 300 hands when running full. Within the factory itself the firm employed about 50 hands, consisting of 25 men, 15 boys, and 10 girls.
As with several other prominent umbrella manufactories of the period, the W.A. Drown & Company was a prolific token issuer. There were 16 varieties of tokens issued by the company, spanning a period of 13 years. Pursuant to catalogs by Miller and Rulau, the varieties are outlined in the following. No rarity is provided by either Miller or Rulau, however, specimens in AU grade or higher can be readily obtained in the numismatic marketplace.
The first specimen below is listed as Miller PA-127. Struck in brass, it is AU in grade. This particular variety is seldom encountered in the numismatic marketplace.
The next specimen was struck in copper. Measuring 2 millimeters larger in diameter than the last specimen, this particular specimen is also seldom seen in the numismatic marketplace. This example is MS-63 in grade.
The specimen pictured below is listed as Miller PA-130. Like the previous specimen, examples of the PA-130 are seldom seen. This variety was struck in brass. It is MS-63 in grade.
The next two specimens are the Miller PA-132A. These two specimens are the silver variety. As with the previous examples, these are seldom seen in the numismatic marketplace.
The next specimen is the Miller PA-132. Extremely rare, this variety was struck in cupronickel. In the past 5 years, I have not encountered any other examples of this variety in the numismatic marketplace.
The next example is the Miller PA-133. This variety and those thereafter are more commonly encountered in the marketplaces. Struck in copper, it is approximately MS-62 in grade.
The following example is cataloged as Miller PA-135. As with the previous example, these can be obtained in the numismatic marketplace if one is patient. This specimen is Mint State in grade.
The next specimen is unlisted in Rulau, Miller, and Adams. It possesses the same dies as the PA-135, but this one is struck in silver. Given that it is an unlisted variety, I have assigned it a catalog number of PA-135A.
Below is the Miller PA-137. Struck in copper, it possesses beautiful iridescent coloring and is MS-60 BN in grade. This particular variety is infrequently encountered in the numismatic marketplace.
The next specimen is the Miller PA-139. Like its counterpart above, it is infrequently encountered. Struck in brass, this example is Mint State in grade.
The final example is the Miller PA-140. Struck in cupronickel, it is very infrequently encountered. As with its cupronickel brother above (Miller PA-132), it is quite rare.
Notes and Sources
- University of Pennsylvania Archives, Hexamer General Surveys, Volume 21, Plates 2049-2050
- Philadelphia and Its Manufactures, Edwin Troxell Freedly, Edwin Young Publisher, 1859, pgs.389-394
- Philadelphia Directory for 1839, A. M’Elroy, Isaac Ashmead & Co, 1839, pg.69
- Biographical Annals of Montgomery County Pennsylvania Volume II, Ellwood Roberts, T.S. Benham & Co., 1904, pgs.412-414
- Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
- A Catalogue of U.S. Store Cards or Merchant Tokens, Donald M. Miller, Henry Hall Inc., ©1962
- United States Store Cards, Edgar H. Adams, ©1920
- Pennsylvania Merchant Tokens, Herman M. Aqua, Michigan Exonumia Publishers, ©2000
- The Library of Congress Digital Archives