Did you know that a Civil War Token was minted that has a bear on one side and a bowling pin on the other? Civil War Tokens are actively collected by both Civil War history buffs and coin collectors, and Heritage Auctions will be offering a fun example of this token as lot #41001 in the September 17-21 US Coins Signature Auction.
The pun in the title of this story is appropriate for a very punny token. Frederick “F. R.” Behr ran a saloon in Detroit, Michigan that also offered a bowling alley, as displayed on the token’s reverse die. He chose a bear motif (a beer-drinking bear, that is) on the obverse as a pun on his last name–Behr/bear and a reference to his drinking establishment that he ran.
Mr. Behr was an immigrant from Germany who was born in Baden and resided in Detroit. As a businessman, he issued merchant tokens in the years surrounding the Civil War. These were typically small cent-sized bronze coins that were similar to the pennies of the day and helped to fill a gap in commerce at a time when there was a coin shortage. These pieces also advertised local businesses and drew attention to these merchants and their wares or offerings.
Writer Cliff Temple discussed a minor Civil War-era incident involving several Detroit merchants in “The Merchant Unionists of Detroit” that appeared in the Spring 1972 issue of the Journal of the Civil War Token Society. It seems that a group of Southern refugees took up residence in Canada during the Civil War with plans to invade Detroit. With few Union troops available, a number of Detroit merchants created a force known as the “Minutemen” to protect the city. More than 1,000 volunteers successfully protected the city from those Southern forces, mostly Confederate intelligence personnel. Frederick Behr was among the merchants involved in the Unionist movement.
These tokens are rare and popular, bringing a higher price at auction than most other Civil War Tokens and appearing only infrequently for bid. Even in lower grades, they can sell for a few thousand dollars!