For the numismatist who loves the coins and history of the U.S., counterstamped coins are a dream come true. For years they were only curiosities in dealer junk boxes but now enjoy a strong following of collectors who serve to drive demand for these relics of a bygone era, as well as reveal the secrets hiding within the often mysterious words and phrases stamped into their surfaces.
In the 19th century it was very common for merchants to advertise their services by stamping coins, especially Large Cents, and passing them back into circulation. A Dr. G.G. Wilkins of Pittsfield, New Hampshire was especially prolific, stamping thousands of coins advertising various medicines and other services. Dr. Wilkins engaged in many professions including a dental practice, barber shop, saloon owner, and peddled products such as “Pure Bear’s Oil” for “what ails you”.
Political slogans were also popular, like “VOTE THE LAND FREE”. This appeared on many copper cents of 1844 and earlier. Q.David Bowers says in his book “United States Copper Coins” that this was the slogan of the Free Soil Party in the 1848 election for which Martin Van Buren was the presidential candidate. Buren campaigned on a platform that urged the prohibition of slavery.
Many coins also carry the hallmarks of silversmiths, blacksmiths, and jewelers of the day. But the advertisements for patent medicines are by far the most popular. OIL OF ICE, GOODWIN’S GRAND GREASE JUICE FOR THE HAIR, DR. KIDDER’S FAMILY PILLS, are just a few.
So back to my 1858 Flying Eagle cent. What could the stamp “PAID” possibly mean? Well I do know that hard currency, starting with silver and eventually copper, disappeared from circulation during the Civil War. It became necessary to issue paper money in denominations of less than a dollar to make up for the lack of coins because everyone was hoarding coins for their intrinsic value. Perhaps stamping hard currency received during this time with the word PAID had a particular significance to a merchant in the 1860’s or ’70’s. I may never know but it sure is fun to ponder.