COAL MINE SCRIP
John Freddie Wilson
As the industrial revolution gained momentum in America during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there came a growing demand for coal to feed the hungry furnaces of industry and the mining of coal began in many states. Since most of these mines were established in remote, rugged areas far from stores and banks it was difficult to keep enough currency on hand to pay its miners. Capitalizing on the opportunity to make additional profits while filling the need to supply the miners and their families with household staples, mine owners established the company store and created the monetary system called “scrip.”
The first scrip was made of paper and came in chits or booklets of different denominations and could only be used in the company store of the mine that issued the scrip. By the early 1900’s token manufacturing companies began minting scrip in brass, copper, aluminum, zinc, nichol, and nichol plate, plus bi-metal pieces made of brass outer ring and lead or aluminum centers. Each company had its own version of coins, some with punched initials of the town or mine it was used in, while others were solid with pictorials or inserts. Most were round but some were scalloped or odd shaped in design. Produced in denominations from 1 cent through $5, all were different sizes much like coins of today. During World War II when metal was in short supply, fiber scrip was made in red, green, brown, white, and black colors. Other early scrip was made of celluloid, plastic and hard rubber.
The Childs Company of Chicago, Illinois was the 1st to apply for a patent of its token design or system in 1899. The Ingle Company received a similar patent in 1909 and the Insurance Credit System followed in 1919. Other early coal scrip makers were Wright & Sons, Cincinnati, Ohio; Southern Rubber Stamp Works, Richmond, Virginia; S. H. Quints & Sons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Murdock Stamp and Specialty Company. The Ingle Company later became Ingle Schierloh Company of Dayton, Ohio. In 1920 Wiley Osborne purchased Murdock Stamp and Specialty Co. and in 1924 the Insurance Credit System and changed their name to the Osborne Register Company with the trade mark “ORCO”. After Ingle Schierloh Co. ceased operations, ORCO eventually became the “King” of the scrip token business.
Since about 75% of all the tokens used were in the coal fields of West Virginia, Virginia and Eastern Kentucky who called them “Scrip”, that was the term adopted to describe these tokens and which we use today. Scrip was not the only name these tokens were known by however, some coal fields and other states had other colorful names such as: “Flickers”, “Clackers”, “Checks”, “P’Lolly”, “Lightweights”, “Bingles”, “Stickers”, “Chink-tin” and “Dugaloos”. But no matter the name used for these tokens, the object was the same; help the coal operators keep the wages paid to the miners in the company by forcing them to spend at the company store.
Some companies paid their miners exclusively in scrip each payday, thereby eliminating the need to keep currency on hand. Others used scrip as a credit medium that miners could use between paydays for needed supplies from the company store. A miner could request credit by scrip against work performed or work that would be performed. This scrip amount would be charged against the miners payroll account and deducted from his next pay day. Some companies would allow miners to trade scrip for cash but usually not for the full face value of the scrip. Some would pay as little as 50 cents on the dollar while others would pay as high as 80 to 85 cents per dollar. A few paid 100% but they were rare.
Being paid in scrip was like trying to work off a loan whose interest rate was so high that he was forever in debt. There was no competition in the coal fields and the company stores inflated their prices far above normal rates. By the time rent for the company house a miner lived in, any medical services he needed, utilities, and even a mandatory funeral fund were deducted along with what he had borrowed between pay days, there often was nothing left to collect on pay day.
In later years some states passed laws requiring companies to pay in U.S. currency each month. Coal companies side-stepped this law by paying in scrip for weekly or bi-weekly pay days and then cash at the end of each month. This in effect left the miner where he was before the law was enacted. Finally, in the 1950’s many states outlawed the use of scrip entirely and it soon disappeared from use altogether. Scrip is now remembered mostly by those who once were paid with it and by those who collect it as a hobby and a fascinating reminder of years gone by.
Page by Lynda Combs Gipson
Updated in 2009