Curios Revealed: November 19, 2013 Reveal

Each Thursday we reveal the answer to Tuesday’s mystery object.

On Tuesday we posted the following object.

November 5

Want to know if you guessed correctly?  Don’t know what the object is?  Read on to find out the answer!

These days it seems like advertisements bombard us wherever we go. Facebook ads encouraging users to find the perfect partner online, glowing giants menace Times Square reassuring everyone that Aerie underwear will make you look like a sun-kissed model, or a disconcerted man in a wiener costume shoving a hot dog coupon in every passerby’s face. With all these flashy advertisements desperately trying to get our attention, how did businesses even promote products 150 years ago besides the traditional newspaper ads and word-of-mouth advertising? Well, a few months back we discovered a flat coin-like disk while excavating on the northwest side of the Riverside site. It turns out that this item was an example of a shell card.

Shell cards were thin embossed tokens that usually advertised a business or service. These shell cards were used like business cards to advertise a product or service often offering promotional deals and discounts. One side of our coin is a thin embossed sheet of metal with an image of Liberty and the year 1868. The other side of the token would have been cardboard disk or another sheet of embossed metal with text indicating where the token could be redeemed. In this case, the back piece is missing which probably means the back piece was made out of cardboard and degraded over time.

Though we don’t know which establishment this token belonged to, we at least know the coin would have been in circulation around 1868 or later. These shell cards would have circulated better than a newspaper ad since these tokens were probably absent-mindedly stored in pockets with other real coins as they were being handed out to people. Some later tokens even had mirrors on one side so people would be less likely to discard something that was useful. With the mass production of products being available in the market and growing competition, it would make sense for businesses to make more of an effort in getting the word out. Perhaps these coins were the beginnings of new advertising techniques, branding concepts, and cut-throat company rivalries…prelude to Mad Men, anyone?

 This post was written by Diana Choi.

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2 thoughts on “Curios Revealed: November 19, 2013 Reveal

  1. Pingback: Press Release | Trowel Points

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