HomeMedals and TokensThe Curious Case of the Mystery Mule Tokens

The Curious Case of the Mystery Mule Tokens

By John Thomassen for American Numismatic Society (ANS) ……
With a collection as large as the American Numismatic Society’s, those of us who work with it daily are bound to find something with which we are unfamiliar. When this happens, we normally go to our colleagues first, and if they are equally stumped, then a bit of internet sleuthing is usually enough to figure out the gist of it, and what additional resources are needed to dive deeper.

But sometimes an object is so vexing, so perplexing, that even when knowing what it is and what the authoritative resources are, there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason as to how or why it came into being. Such is the case with the object below, which was found amongst the Society’s extensive Civil War Token collection, unaccessioned and uncatalogued.

Figure 1. The “obverse” and “reverse” of our mystery mule Civil War Token.
Figure 1. The “obverse” and “reverse” of our mystery mule Civil War Token.

On the “obverse” of the token, we have Fuld 432, a popular Civil War Token patriotic die that is known to be paired with over a dozen other patriotic dies, both as an obverse type and a reverse type. Although, truth be told, I’ve never been able to make heads or tails of how George and Melvin Fuld determined when a die should be, well, heads or tails… but I suppose that’s a mystery for another day. The same die is also used as a comparatively scarce Civil War Token store card reverse, Fuld 1275, paired only with three store cards: one from Bloomington, Illinois (IL-065-A); one from New York City, New York (NY-630-CC); and one from Baraboo, Wisconsin (WI-045-A).

The “reverse” of the token is a bit more confusing, but once you know its true origins, it perhaps has a better claim to being the reverse, making Fuld 432 the de facto obverse (but more on that later).

Right off the bat, the design is confusing because it is in Spanish. While I would say that Spanish is mostly Greek to me, the confusion lies not in its uninterpretability (try saying that five times fast) but in its juxtaposition against a well-known Civil War Token design composed not in Spanish but in English. And really, what could a Spanish die have to do with the American Civil War anyway? Truthfully, not a whole lot, but tangentially, there is a connection.

But again, more on that later.

The Spanish reverse is often referred to as Eklund 1166. This designation comes from O.P. Eklund’s Catalogue of Tokens of Mexico, Central and South America and the West Indies, compiled between 1911 and 1936. To my knowledge, Eklund’s catalog was never formally published, but at some point, Eklund 1166 was set loose upon the world, and it has been used to describe this reverse ever since (although it does have a few other catalog numbers, as we shall see).

So what does Eklund 1166 describe in full? As it so happens, the ANS has a copy of Eklund’s catalog written in his own hand safely shelved in the Harry W. Bass Jr. Library rare book room. In it, Eklund (incorrectly) ascribes the copper token to Ecuador, identifying M. Y J. F. DE LA VEGA / VALE UN REAL (with rosette) as the obverse design, and YNGENIO ECUADOR / 1864 (with palm tree) as the reverse. There is also an Eklund 1167, which is the same token but in brass and with a thinner flan. The ANS has both Eklund 1166 and 1167 in the collection.

Figure 2. O. P. Eklund’s original description of Eklund 1166 and 1167 in his handwritten catalog.
Figure 2. O. P. Eklund’s original description of Eklund 1166 and 1167 in his handwritten catalog.

You may have noticed that the ANS examples are ascribed to Cuba, not Ecuador. You may have also noticed that this seems to contradict the tokens themselves, as they both boldly proclaim their origin—ECUADOR—on their reverse. But alas, this is not the case.

As it turns out, these tokens are indeed from Cuba. Several other catalogs confirm the same, including Russel Rulau’s Latin American Tokens (2nd edition) and the Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700–1900 (4th edition). The former catalogs the token as Mat 80 (the brass version is Mat 81) and states that it is from the municipality of Jovellanos in the Matanzas province of Cuba, and the latter also states that this is a Cuban token from the province of Matanzas.

That said, the token mentioned in Rulau’s Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700–1900 is actually a mule (cataloged as Y3G) that pairs the intriguing CONTRAHENDA ET SOLVENDO obverse of Y3C with the YNGENIO ECUADOR of Eklund 1166 / 1167 and Mat 80 / 81 fame. The story behind the CONTRAHENDA ET SOLVENDO pieces is too nebulous to get into here, but suffice it to say that the number of mules is about to get bigger, so please brace yourselves. To make matters more confusing, Rulau has YNGENIO ECUADOR as the obverse when describing Mat 80 / 81, but as the reverse when muled with the obverse of Y3C to form Y3G. In other words, up is down, hot is cold, and black is white.

Interestingly, there are more specialized catalogs in existence that either do or do not refer to the token known as Eklund 1166 / 1167 and Mat 80 / 81.

The first is Henry Ramsden’s The Sugar Estate Tokens of Cuba (1904), which does not mention this token at all. The next is Roberto Pesant’s A Catalogue of the Cuban Sugar Estate Tokens, a copy of which Pesant donated to the ANS in 1960 (one of three copies he made). In his initial catalog, Pesant, like Ramsden, does not mention this token, but in an addendum composed in 1962 and gifted to the ANS (one of just two copies he made) Pesant does include the copper variant, listed as Pesant 67.9-presumably in order to slot it into where it should have sat in his initial catalog–with no additional listing for the brass variant. Pesant confides that he has not seen either variant in person, but includes it based on Eklund’s description, although Pesant (like Rulau later on) also believes YNGENIO ECUADOR to be the obverse.

Additionally, Pesant notes that the token is not from Ecuador as Eklund believed but is likely from the province of Matanzas near the [municipality] of Jovellanos. Pesant uses the Eklund catalog numbers as 396 (in copper) and 397 (in brass) in his addendum but these numbers actually allude to the sale of Eklund’s collection to H.D. Gibbs in which Eklund 1166 and 1167 are listed as 396 and 397, respectively.

Pesant is also the only source to expand upon the identity of the estate owners, concluding that the initials M. Y J. F. stand for “Manuel y [and] Juan Francisco”. As an aside, I have also seen one auction record of the copper variant cataloged as “Pesant 83”, but I am unsure of where this designation originates from, and it very well could just be a mistake.

Figure 3. Roberto Pesant’s secondhand description of Eklund 1166 in his typewritten catalog addendum.
Figure 3. Roberto Pesant’s secondhand description of Eklund 1166 in his typewritten catalog addendum.

The most conclusive source that this this token is absolutely of Cuban origin is none other Cuban historian Manuel Moreno Fraginals’ El Token Azucarero Cubano, which features this exact token as the cover image. It is catalog number 14 in his book, and, like Pesant and Rulau, Fraginals lists YNGENIO ECUADOR as the obverse. However, there is no mention of composition in Fraginals’ book, so it is unclear if entry 14 refers to the copper variant or the bronze one, but given that the cover image appears to be copper, I lean towards that as the likeliest answer.

Figure 4. The cover of Manuel Moreno Fraginals’ book on Cuban sugar estate tokens.
Figure 4. The cover of Manuel Moreno Fraginals’ book on Cuban sugar estate tokens.

Now that we know the true origins of the reverse of our mystery mule Civil War Token, we can begin to make some additional connections, even if we cannot draw many strong conclusions from them. But first, it is important to know that the YNGENIO ECUADOR design has been muled not only with the CONTRAHENDA ET SOLVENDO obverse of Y3C, but with several other Fuld dies as well, including (you guessed it) Fuld 432, as found on the obverse of our mystery mule. In fact, YNGENIO ECUADOR has its own die number in Fuld (253) owing to the fact that it has been paired with not only Fuld 432 but five other Fuld dies, as well (294, 295, 125, 127, and 248). Although again, whether it is called the obverse die or the reverse die changes depending on the pairing, for reasons I am still unclear on.

All of these pairings have a rarity rating of R-9 to R-10 (the latter being one example known) – which can be a red flag in the world of Civil War Tokens due to the many mules and compositional varieties that have been created over the years. In George and Melvin Fuld’s Patriotic Civil War Tokens (5th edition) there is a whole chapter on “Questionable Patriotic Civil War Tokens” in which all five of the Fuld 253 pairings are called out as “Non-Civil War Token Mulings” and likewise in the Civil War Token Society’s Patriotic Civil War Tokens (6th Edition), an image of Eklund 1166 / Mat 80 / Pesant 67.9 / Fraginals 14 is called out as well, although the caption, which contains a number of errors, partly reads: “Another curious ‘patriotic token’ is actually a store card for the Ecuadorian firm of M. & J. F. De La May [sic].”

So, what are the conclusions we can draw, if any?

The first is that, at one or more points in time, one or more persons had access to the following dies: Fuld 253 (YNGENIO ECUADOR), Fuld 432 (NO COMPROMISE WITH TRAITORS), and the obverse of Eklund 1166 / 1167—or reverse of Mat 80 / 81, if you prefer—(M. Y J. F. DE LA VEGA / VALE UN REAL). Fuld 253 and 432 have been both muled and legitimately paired with other designs, of course. But it’s the triangulation of these that leads me to suspect that one person may have had all three dies at once, although this is difficult to prove at best, if not impossible, but additional digging as to who the diesinkers and manufacturers were may possibly yield a tenuous answer.

The second conclusion is that one should always be wary of citing sources (e.g. Eklund 1166) without reading them yourself, as they may not always be accurate.

And the third is that the realm of Civil War Tokens is rife with mules, fabrications, and fantasies. This was true even in 1866, when the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society (now the ANS) began publishing a “list of the ‘Copperheads’ …of the rebellion,” that is, the store cards and patriotic tokens of the recently concluded American Civil War. This initial list first appeared in Vol. I, No. 2 of the American Journal of Numismatics.

A mere five months later, in Vol. I, No. 7 of the American Journal of Numismatics, a diatribe titled “On Muling Coins” appeared on page 1, which is reproduced in full below. In particular, I would call your attention to the second paragraph, which fully encapsulates the conundrum we started this blog post with:

“By the system of muling, dies are mixed heterogeneously; reverses combine in inextricable confusion; and coins are created, which after generations of numismatists will curse as nondescript; and which are an injury—a crying evil—to the proper study of the science, and the proper classification of its illustrations.”

Several pages later, in a continuance of the “Descriptive Catalogue” of those curious “Copperheads”, we witness the printed birth of our wonderful little mystery mule, before fading into obscurity, waiting to be rediscovered over 150 years later.

Ob. “My. Y. J F. De La Vega. Vale por un Real.”

Rev. “No Compromise with Traitors.”

Figure 5. Vol. I, No. 7 of the American Journal of Numismatics (November 1866).
Figure 5. Vol. I, No. 7 of the American Journal of Numismatics (November 1866).
Figure 6. Vol. I, No. 7 of the American Journal of Numismatics (November 1866).
Figure 6. Vol. I, No. 7 of the American Journal of Numismatics (November 1866).

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American Numismatic Society (ANS)

American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Societyhttps://numismatics.org
The American Numismatic Society (ANS), organized in 1858 and incorporated in 1865 in New York State, operates as a research museum and is recognized as a publicly supported organization. "The mission of The American Numismatic Society is to be the preeminent national institution advancing the study and appreciation of coins, medals and related objects of all cultures as historical and artistic documents, by maintaining the foremost numismatic collection and library, by supporting scholarly research and publications, and by sponsoring educational and interpretive programs for diverse audiences."

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