In the fall of 2015 I sought to write an article for The Civil War Token Journal (which was published in our Winter 2015 edition) dismantling the misunderstanding that H.A. Ratterman was the first issuer of Civil War token store cards. It bothered me to no end that the internet seemed to copy and paste exactly what Wikipedia had on the topic. I saw on site after site, some seemingly authoritative, others simply glorified advertising and internet marketing sites, the Wikipedia entry verbatim.
The entry is as follows: “The first of these privately minted tokens [referring to Civil War token store cards] appeared in the autumn of 1862, by H. A. Ratterman, in Cincinnati, Ohio.”
This lead me to two logical conclusions. The first is that I need to be more active as an editor on Wikipedia to correct information that is either outdated or largely misunderstood. The second is that numismatists are still valuable resources in the wild west of interpreting our collective history.
For some background, the statement that is copied verbatim is from a real source. It comes from an interview in 1910 in The Numismatist with Ratterman himself, conducted by Waldo C Moore. I ask you to refer to my article in the Winter 2015 journal for a look at the entrepreneurial and ambitiously self-righteous attitude of H.A. Ratterman.
He was a numismatist and in addition to being a jack-of-all-trades renaissance man. He clearly made the statement that he conceived the idea for store cards in order to add to his already historic place in German-American, Cincinnati, architectural, literary, antiquities appreciation, and numismatic culture.
In the interview, he reasoned he came up with the idea for producing them. At the time of the interview, no one was taking responsibility for their issue, but clues were emerging from Cincinnati due to the sheer quantity and variety coming out of the Queen City.
Numerous numismatists (Bowers, Jaeger, Ostendorf) firmly agree on Cincinnati die sinkers being one of the earliest to implement the store card trend successfully, but not the first to produce them. The evidence they cite seems to suggest Chicago and Indiana die sinkers for local merchants.
The greatest evidence against Ratterman comes from prominent Cincinnati die sinker John Stanton, famous for his Wealth of the South tokens, writing at the age of 82, that he did not conceive the idea for store card production until he saw them in circulation in Indiana; “very early in the War of Rebellion.” Even if we consider the date of the above source, April 1862, we know there were issues prior to that.
This makes for a classic example for young researchers and budding historians: just because it is in the history from a primary source does not mean that it should be automatically plugged into research, and like in this case, the source actually inaccurate. The result leads to dozens of websites and other published media inaccurately feeding information to the public.