Numismatics and Exonumia go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Numismatics is the study of currency, coins or bills that are accepted as legal tender. Exonumia is the study of numismatic items that are not accepted as legal tender. Tokens, medals, and scrips (a substitute for legal tender) are all exonumia.
The term exonumia was coined by Russel Rulau in July 1960. Exonumia comes from the greek “exo” meaning “out of” and “nummus” meaning “coin”. So, exonumia means “out of coin”.
There are 3 categories of tokens/medals:
- Ones that have trade-able value, or can be exchanged
- Commemorative tokens or medals
- Personal Items
Type 1 is the most common, or at least most commonly collected. A game token from Chuck E. Cheese would be Type 1, because the coin can be used to play a game. A bus token is also Type 1 because it can be used to purchase a bus ride.
Type 2 could be made by the US Mint or a private entity. Tokens of the Type 2 variety usually commemorate historical events or figures. Remember these have no inherent monetary value, meaning the value is not backed by a government.
Type 3 is more difficult to define. This is kind of a catch-all category for items that are neither coins nor Type 1 or 2 tokens. Prayer coins and AA chips fit well into this category.
Why collect tokens if they have no monetary value?
For one, tokens are much cheaper to purchase than legal coinage. There are bulk token lots on eBay where tokens are sold by the pound. For most people, there is no value in these items so they are simply thrown away or forgotten in a drawer.
Tokens and medals have some amazing artwork and history attached to them. The artwork and lack of inherent value make tokens great items to display!
Well many coin collectors hide their coins from potential thieves or children looking for quarters to buy ice cream, tokens are great for display because they can easily be repurchased.
Great For Traveling!
When I’m on trips, I like to look for novelty items that will bring me long-term enjoyment at a reasonable price. I could buy some cheap knick-knacks, but they often get tossed on a shelf and rarely admired after coming back.
Below are two tokens I got for about $10 each. The left token is from the Grand Canyon National park, and the right is from Death Valley National Park.
Buying tokens is great, because they fit in seamlessly with my coin collection. Plus, they take up very little space in a suitcase!
I have a few tokens I’ve bought on trips that represent fun memories, but my favorite tokens to collect on trips are smashed/elongated pennies!
At 51 cents a piece, elongated pennies are the cheapest item at a gift store. Plus, you get to pick your own design and make them yourself.
Here is my pressed penny collection. I got many of these on a cross-country road-trip. My souvenirs ended up being the cheapest expense of the whole trip!
Here’s a link below to the smashed penny booklet I use. The albums can also be purchased at some gift shops. (Make sure to get one though! I have lost dozens of pressed pennies over the years by sticking them in my pocket!)
If you want to learn more about elongated pennies, check out this article: “All About Elongated Pennies – History, Myths, Pictures“!
Examples of Exonumia include:
- Challenge Coins
- Pressed Pennies
- Medals (Government and Private)
- Political Tokens
- Car Wash Tokens
- Batting Cage Tokens
- Play Money
- Bus/Train Tokens
- Trade Coins
- Prison Tokens
- Prayer Coins
- AA Chips
- And hundreds more!
Below is a gallery of some of my tokens I have collected over the years.
Share your thoughts in the comments and poll below!
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