The Hudson’s Bay Company tokens and exonumia have always been some of my absolute favorite pieces to collect. Their ruggedly simple design is illustrative of their use in the remote Canadian wilderness. The South Dakota Hoard tokens are no exception. Their story though is one of treasure hunting and full of questions rather than answers.
Celebrated HBC specialist, Greg Ingram first wrote about the discovery of these in January 2010. Since then there has been little discussion and few sales exchanging hands between collectors. They only rarely show up on eBay and I have yet to see a major auction contain one. Though, they are not to be confused with the 1946 Eastern Arctic Set, that does show up quite frequently at auction.
Greg and several prominent HBC collectors hold a complete collection of each denomination. In total there are less than 10 full sets out there in different collections. There are only 25 100 cent pieces, limiting the number of possible sets.
David Mclean still owns the majority of these tokens. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him in the summer of 2015 and learning the story of how he acquired these. Can you imagine the opportunity to purchase a hoard outright, a part of history that no one else knows at that time? David did and Greg was the second highest bidder on eBay. I won’t disclose the price paid, but it was an incredible deal at the time for such a multitude of historic pieces.
More fascinating was getting to hold the dozens of 10 cent pieces all meticulously separated by David into his own strict guidelines for grade and damage. Yes, there were a fair number of damaged tokens in the hoard, but not in the way many would guess. Each token is lead painted (believed to be lead) on the numerals and letters. During the storage of these tokens for the last fifty-some years, humidity interacted with the lead and leaked out into some of the other tokens. In many cases this left some strange patterns and oddities like in the 10 cent piece I acquired from David.
Besides the 100 cent pieces, the 10 cent pieces will be tough to acquire without corrosion or damage. All remaining pieces feature some major problem, notably the paint leaching onto other examples. The 50 Cent examples appear to be almost perfectly pristine. The paint on them is spotless and the reverses are all free of paint or corrosion. The one I purchased from David has a little character, with a small scratch.
So where and why were these tokens used? It’s really unclear like so many tokens and exonumia of The Hudson’s Bay Company, they were produced with local authority. Post managers (known as chief factors) had the authority to produce their own monies (often tokens) or counters in order to satisfy their needs in such remote locations.
This set could have very well been a complementary set to the 1946 Eastern Arctic Set, meant to be used as counters for illustrative purposes, to teach the Inuit the Canadian decimal system for commerce. Maybe it was meant as a circulating medium for a post that was short on Canadian Federal Coinage. Regardless, it does appear that this hoard never circulated, leaving the author to believe, these were meant for use, but something happened that prevented them from circulating.