Wooden money an affordable way to celebrate,
By Jeff Starck
Collectors looking to
celebrate a milestone or just for a cheap
numismatic thrill may consider issuing their own
Though the concept in the United States grew out
of the need for an emergency currency, the
intent behind them today includes a sentiment or
commemoration, a business or even an event.
The history of wooden money goes back to 12th
century England when tally sticks were used to
record amounts of deposits, according to Darrell
Luedtke, president of the International
Organization of Wooden Money Collectors.
Wooden money can be issued for just about any
reason, and in any color, and even with multiple
colors. An assortment of wooden money issued in
recent years testifies to the breadth of
Two sticks were lined up with each other and
notches were cut in both pieces, with one stick
given to the lender and the other stick given to
the borrower. When the debt was paid, both
sticks were destroyed.
Another issue of wooden money was made of thin
bamboo in Tibet during the 12th century, and
from 1849 to 1860 several private issues of
wooden money were produced in Reichenberg,
Austria, Luedtke said.
In 1920, Hadersfield, Austria, issued wooden
money that was good as currency in the town, and
this was followed up by other issues in St.
Polten, Tusfeldon, and Sell bei Zelhof, Austria,
also in 1920, Luedtke said.
Wooden money was also used in the East; China
had several issues of wooden (bamboo) money
starting with the Chien Lung Dynasty (1735) and
their issue continued until about 1936.
U.S. wooden money
The whole concept of personal woods grew out of
the 1930s when the city of Tenino, Wash., issued
wooden scrip as an emergency currency measure
during a shortage of money.
On Dec. 5, 1931, the failure of the Citizens
Bank of Tenino, which tied up the accounts of
the depositors, made the shortage of money in
Depression-era Washington acute, Luedtke said.
The Tenino Chamber of Commerce called an
emergency meeting to discuss the grave situation
and approved the printing of 25¢, $1, $5 and $10
denomination scrip on pieces of paper the size
of paper money then in use, using various
Later issues were printed on slices of local
Sitka spruce, Port Orford spruce and red cedar
that were 1/80th of an inch thick. The wood was
eventually reinforced with paper between the
sheets, producing a sturdy, functional currency,
from a product known as "slicewood." Albert
Balch of Seattle furnished the "slicewood,"
formed from the laminating of bond paper between
the slices of wood.
When Blaine, Wash., experienced the same dilemma
as Tenino with a bank failure, Balch – who had
earlier promoted slicewood for Christmas cards
and other items – stepped to the forefront and
helped Blaine produce its own wooden money.
Blaine issued wooden money on 1.5-inch diameter
pieces of thin wood in 5-, 10-, 25- and 50-cent
and $1 denominations and, as such, issued the
first "wooden nickel," according to Luedtke.
Since the U.S. Treasury Department considered
private monetary issues illegal, communities
using the scrip soon dropped the idea.
However, enterprising individuals drew upon the
concept and issued souvenir wooden nickels to
compliment the Chicago World's Fair of 1933.
The use soon spread, and many cities issued
wooden money to celebrate (and defray costs for)
festivals, centennials and fairs. Most of these
wooden pieces for a few decades were the
rectangular issues known as "flats."
In the mid-1950s several printers of wooden
money entered the market and offered the round
1.5-inch and 2-inch wooden nickels that would
become the industry standard, Luedtke said.
Because they were less expensive than "flats,"
their printing was no longer limited to
"official" issuance for centennials, fairs and
festivals. Soon, coin clubs, businesses and
individuals began issuing these relatively
inexpensive wooden nickels.
Wooden money today
Their uses have yet to be exhausted. Wooden
money has been used as advertising promotions
for restaurants, coin club shows and
anniversaries; as personal announcements for
such events as weddings and births; and as
holiday greetings, just to name a few uses of
Some merchants still issue woods that are
redeemable for minimal value in cash, goods or
services as a promotional gimmick.
Some issue woods as business cards. Others issue
woods to mark birthdays, anniversaries or other
personal milestones, and sometimes, numismatic
Wooden nickels show up as giveaways at political
rallies, county and state fair functions and
anything else you can think of to celebrate or
They are a popular way to send personalized
holiday greetings to friends and relatives.
Manufacturers have produced round and square
wooden flat issues, as well as some pieces in
Several collector organizations are dedicated to
wooden money collecting.
Bunyan's Chips, the official publication of the
International Organization of Wooden Money
Collectors, and Timber Lines, the official
publication of Dedicated Wooden Money
Collectors, are replete with information on
past, present and future wooden money issues
presented either in a round "wooden nickel" or
"wood flat" format.
Write to Luedtke, president of the IOWMC, at
9957 W. Margaret Lane, Franklin, WI 53132, or
contact Floyd Thomas, president of the DWMC, at
6505 Mullen Road, Shawnee, KS 66216.
Several other regional organizations, including
the Canadian Wooden Money Collectors, Penn Ohio
Wooden Money Collectors and Western Wooden Money
Collectors, also focus on wood issues.
Today, the wood rounds are often produced in
white maple or cherry, and the flats in balsa or
light cherry, although the wood of choice may
vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Costs will also vary from manufacturer to
manufacturer, depending on how elaborate a
design is employed or if a stock design is used;
whether just one or multiple colors for one or
both sides are desired; and how many pieces are
ordered and of what size.
Manufacturers also use different techniques in
producing different effects on their products,
such as foil stamping, which imparts a
reflective design or lettering. Enhancements
such as these often require an additional
Some companies' sole business is producing
woods, while other businesses may offer the
service among many others they provide.