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Wooden money an affordable way to celebrate, advertise
By Jeff Starck

Collectors looking to celebrate a milestone or just for a cheap numismatic thrill may consider issuing their own wooden "money."

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 possibilities.

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 colors.

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.

Treasury objections

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 wooden money.

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 remembrances.

Wooden nickels show up as giveaways at political rallies, county and state fair functions and anything else you can think of to celebrate or remember.

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 odd shapes.

Collector organizations

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 charge.

Some companies' sole business is producing woods, while other businesses may offer the service among many others they provide.

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