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Medals and Tokens

Medals and Tokens

Numismatics claims medals and tokens as part of its area of interest. Tokens are coin-like objects, although not always made of metal, that serve as a money substitute. They are not issued by a governmental authority. Often they serve in times of a shortage of coins, and are usually meant for local use for a limited duration. Medals are never used as money. They are also coin-like objects, almost always metal, usually larger than coins and with higher relief. They are intended to honor or commemorate a person, place, or event. They have no indicated monetary value.

Most of the examples in the University Libraries' collection pertain to North Carolina and were made in the twentieth century or later. Some are made of gold, others base metal or even cardboard.


The University Award medal, 1987
The University Award medal, 1987
The North Carolina Award medal, to Paul Green, 1964
The North Carolina Award medal
Awarded to Paul Green, 1964
University of North Carolina Bicentennial medal, 1993
University of North Carolina
Bicentennial medal, 1993

Above, left: The University Award is given by the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina. The award was created in 1979 and recognizes service to higher education. It is the highest distinction of this nature that the University bestows. The obverse features a sun face surrounded by fifteen rays. Around the circumference is a border of small flowers and the text: "THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA/1789". The reverse has text on the upper half which reads "THE UNIVERSITY AWARD" and the same border of small flowers on the lower half of circumference. Small print engraved on the edge of medal reads "1987 MEDALLIC ART CO.-DANBURY, CT.--BRONZE."

Above, center: In 1964, Playwright Paul Green won the State of North Carolina Award, the highest civilian honor the State of North Carolina can bestow. The medal was designed by Paul Manship, Medallic Art Company of New York. It features the Great Seal as it appeared in 1961, the year of the award’s establishment. Liberty, modeled after the Roman goddess Minerva, holds the Constitution and a “liberty cap,” a symbol of freedom used in revolutionary America. At right, the goddess Plenty holds an overflowing cornucopia, signifying food and abundance. The ship at right represents commerce. A red, white, and blue ribbon attaches to the medal for wearing around the neck. The earliest of these medals, including Green’s, was made of fourteen-karat gold.

Above, right: University of North Carolina produced just 200 copies of its medal to celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of the University in 1793. The medal depicts three of the University's most famous landmarks: the Old Well and the Davie Poplar tree on the obverse, and a silhouette of the Old East building and the Old Well on the reverse. Dr. Jerry Linenger, a UNC alumnus and doctor of aerospace medicine, took one of these medals aboard the space shuttle Discovery, which orbited the earth in September 1994. That example is a part of the University Libraries' collection.

Women's Exposition of the Carolinas medal, 1897
Women's Exposition of the
Carolinas medal, 1897
Fayetteville, North Carolina Lafayette medal, 1939
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Lafayette medal, 1939

Above, left: According to the Charlotte Observer, the purpose of the Women's Exposition of the Carolinas was to "stimulate and educate the people by a good exhibit of works of fine art, manufacturers and souvenirs of historic events." Another purpose was to raise funds for the YMCA. One of the objects exhibited was a death mask of Napoleon, a part of the Libraries' collection. The medal was available as a souvenir.

Above, right:  The city of Fayetteville is named in honor of Frenchman Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, who served in the American Revolutionary War as a general. The city issued a medal to commemorate the bicentennial of the first settlement of the town, 1739-1939. The reverse shows the Market House, which served as town market from 1832 until 1906 and is now a city landmark. The medal was produced by Whitehead & Hoag of Newark, New Jersey.


Phenix Mills token
Phenix Mills token
store token ca. 1920-40s
Chapel Hill, North Carolina transit 
token ca 2000
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
transit token ca. 2000
Champion Compress and Warehouse 
Company of Wilmington, NC token ca. 1910-20
Champion Compress and
Warehouse Company of
Wilmington, N. C.
token ca. 1910-20

Above, left: The token was issued by the Phenix Mills Store in Kings Mountain, N.C., most likely in the 1920-40s period. Denominated simply as “10,” it is about the size of a dime, made of base metal, and was good for merchandise. It would have been given to company employees in exchange for work or as small change from a purchase in the company store. It was issued by the company, and its purpose was to keep wealth in the company.

Above, center: Chapel Hill issued transportation and parking tokens.  The tokens were used instead of cash for a bus ride or in a parking meter. They could be bought in bulk and used by merchants to give to a customer to pay for parking. “PAT” means Parking, Attended Parking, and Transportation. This example dates from about 2000.

Above, right: The Champion Compress and Warehouse Company of Wilmington, North Carolina was owned by cotton exporters Alexander Sprunt and Sons. They shipped cotton to England, as well as other places in Europe and in the United States. One side reads "ONE BALE;" the other "DELIVERY GANG." These tokens were issued to workers unloading bales to account for the quantity of work performed. It dates from 1910-20.

Dewberry pickers chits
Dewberry pickers chits
ca. 1920-1940s
Gray Drug Store, Statesville, North Carolina
Gray Drug Co.
Statesville, North Carolina
ca. 1940s

Above, left to right: Pickers of dewberries would receive a cardboard chit for each unit they picked. Cardboard, yes, but still a type of token. These could later be exchanged for money. N. M. McKeithan of Vass (Moore County), North Carolina operated a dewberry farm. Vass is near Cameron (Moore County), North Carolina, which was known as the dewberry capital of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These chits date from the 1920s to 1940s. Dewberries are closely related to blackberries.

A token "good for one five cent drink or cigar," dating from the 1940s, was issued by Gray Drug Company, located at the “Polk on the Square,” Statesville, North Carolina. Such tokens were used either as a small change substitute or as an advertising promotional.