I always thought of milk or dairy tokens to be one of the most appealing designs in all of exonumia. It is rare to see such strange shapes that differ from the circular or square patterns so often struck as monetary replacements. Even more rare are colors other than the more common bronze and aluminum. Milk and dairy tokens are often purple, blue, white, red, yellow, green, black and any combination of those. Their history remains timeless, reminding many collectors of the ‘good ol’ days’ when fresh milk was delivered, before mandated pasteurization. So why then have they failed to increase much in value on the secondary market?
First of all, I want to be clear in my assessment. I absolutely love dairy tokens. As a buyer I am often pleased to see affordable prices. That changed though with the passing of Melvin Reiter. Reiter, the Michigan native and authority on the topic, who wrote the massive catalogue on dairy and milk tokens had amassed a collection spanning all continents with thousands of different examples, many of which were unique. When his collection was broken up and sold for retail sale it was amazing to see how little interest there was.
Such a pedigree should have received massive excitement from those in the milk and dairy community. I expected interest like Fuld and Rulaua pieces recieved when their collections were up distributed for public sale. Reiter’s nicest examples were selling for $10 or less and that is if they were even selling!
The average price for a milk dairy token of Canada or the U.S. often sells for $4-6 on eBay. Doubling that price might seem impressive but again, putting that in context, pieces from the former two collections often sold for 3-4 times catalogue value. So what’s going on that has dropped the value of milk and dairy tokens and left them largely unsellable? Remember asking prices are different than prices realized. Few people are actually buying milk or dairy tokens.
It is my understanding that unlike many other facets of tokens and exonumia, the dairy and milk tokens represent a time period that has not left such a lasting impact in the consciousness of the average person. Tokens issued for a much shorter time such as Civil War tokens or Hard Times Tokens have a lasting history associated with them. Those are time periods that are felt and reminded on an almost daily basis. They are consistently taught in schools and have a growing audience interested in scholarship and entertainment.
Yes, home delivery of milk and dairy products will be remembered but it only really touched a generation or two. It is not often taught in schools, it’s rarely mentioned in television and movies and will unfortunately become a blip on the radar when analyzing the history of the mid to late 20th century.
I’m not saying ‘don’t buy milk or dairy tokens.’ They are wonderful pieces, which display well and are incredibly fun to research. Many collectors can get away with having an investment mentality in other areas of exonumia. This unfortunately does not look to be one of them.
Even though collectors reminisce a wonderfully warm, comfortable feeling, make great display pieces with their color and shape, interest in collecting them is becoming rarer than the examples themselves. Consider that when putting together your collection of any numismatic piece. Remember the lack of interest can be used to your advantage if you are an interested buyer. Make your desired price known and work diligently to build the collection you want.