Discover Copper Online

Winter 1995

Copper and Brass Tokens Boost Business

Copper and brass tokens are used in slot machines, video and other amusement games, to purchase food, soft drinks, souvenirs, cigarettes, elevator rides to the Sears Tower observation level, public transportation, laundry and dry-cleaning machines, and for rental golf-carts, buckets of balls at driving ranges, and as commemorative medallions, among other uses.

Transactions in tokens are booming worldwide. Experts cite three reasons why tokens, almost all of which are made of copper alloys, are increasingly popular:

  • More casinos with arrays of slot machines are opening in the USA and all over the world;
  • Token-operated toll bridges, highways and mass transportation services, as well as token operated vending machines and public phones, are rarely attacked by thieves;
  • It's easy for operators of token-based functions to raise charges - they simply raise the price of their tokens.
American token makers are enjoying brisk business abroad, particularly with casinos, because U.S.-made slot machines are installed so widely. For instance, Van Brook, Inc., recently filled an order for a casino in China. Virgil Vance, president of the Lexington, Kentucky-based token maker, says his firm got the rush order after tokens from a source in Japan didn't work. Vance's firm supplies tokens to customers in 90 nations.

Troy Zurawski, production manager of the Las Vegas based Nevada Mint, reports most U.S. casinos replace their slot-machine tokens every five or six years. However, some 10% to 15% are never redeemed because they're taken home as souvenirs. In addition, a small number are retained by collectors who specialize in tokens.

General use of tokens instead of currency has been forbidden by law since 1933. However, before this prohibition was enforced about 20 years ago, casino tokens were widely used in Nevada for small purchases in shops. Decades ago, miners were paid with tokens that could be redeemed for goods at company stores. Tokens are subject to another legal restriction: they can't be made in the same sizes as U.S. coins. Nevertheless, tokens are still dispensed as tips within casinos. In New York City, subway tokens can be used in many midtown parking meters.

Tokens For Security

Monarch makes its oddly shaped tokens out of 70-30 brass and also makes the mechanical coin acceptors they activate. The slides in the machines into which the tokens are placed are also made of brass.

Tokens also enhance security. In amusement arcades, large laundromats and other places where many machines cannot be seen by attendants, the proprietors favor tokens over coins. This is because thieves usually don't steal tokens unique to an establishment. Where sale of cigarettes to n-dnors is prohibited and enforced, some retailers sell tokens that operate their cigarette-vending machines to adults only.

To block cheap "slugs" that might be accepted instead of coins or legitimate tokens, use of "high-security" brass tokens is growing, according to Norman Martin of Monarch Tool & Manufacturing Company, Covington, Kentucky. These tokens are either oddly shaped, have raised features or are made of "sandwiches" of different metals, mostly copper or copper alloys. The latter have special electromagnetic or electrical resistance properties recognized by high-tech coin acceptors.

Besides security, tokens offer another advantage over coins: proprietors can discount their value to promote certain offerings or the opening of a new location. Some operators put their tokens in "Welcome Wagon" kits. Many gas stations offer special tokens for free car washes to drivers who fill up, according to Laura Olson of the Amusement & Music Operators Association, Washington, D.C.

Tokens are widely used in transportation. Subway turnstiles in many large cities can only be operated by copper-alloy tokens that also work on buses or trolleys. Passage on many highways and bridges, particularly in the eastern U.S., is purchased with either tokens or coins.

Non-redeemable Tokens

Nineteenth Century political candidates, such as Abraham Lincoln and William Jennings Bryan, often had tokens bearing their images minted for distribution to supporters. Today, such tokens have evolved into inaugural medallions for each incoming U.S. President. These medallions and other commemoratives are mostly minted in bronze but also in precious metals.

One of today's most popular non-redeemable tokens is the "stammer" used in the children's game of "Pog." The name derives from a popular, Hawaiian Pineapple-Orange-Guava drink. A player throws his stammer at a pile of upside-down cards or caps (originally, caps from the drink's containers). Those that bounce and land face up accrue to the thrower. Aficionados favor the heavier slammers.

Hoffman Mint, Carmel, California, uses alloy C23000 to makes its "Cool Mike" line of slammers. In addition to minted slammers, some are made from plastic, slices of brass cylinders, and even torpedo-shapes of brass.

Hoffman also makes calling-card tokens that salesmen leave with customers. These tokens make a strong impression and "are never thrown away," Hoffman claims.

A New Dollar Coin?

The vending and transportation the introduction of a new dollar bill and the unpopular Susan B. machine operators prefer coins are mechanical, inexpensive, stur trast, bill acceptors, which are ele a lot of maintenance and only last a few years each on average.

Providers of transportation prefer coins, to bills because like tokens, are much easier to handle. A 1991 study by economist G.T. McCandles, Jr., University of Chicago, estimates that transport at least $125 million a year following the introduction of a new $1 coin.

The Federal Reserve and the Government Accouting Office say the U.S. Government would realize a savings of $450 million year with a new coin, according to James C. Benfield, Executive Director of the Coin Coalition based in Washington, D.C. Legislation regarding a new coin is currently in Congress.

AMOA: 202/857-1100.
Coin Coalition: 202/783-5588
Hoffman Mint: 408/625-5333
Monarch: 606/261-4421
Nevada Mint: 702/369-0500
Van Brook: 606/231-7100

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