BOOK REVIEW: ALASKA AND YUKON TOKENS BY RON BENICE
The E-Sylum (1/3/2010)
The third edition of Ron Benice's Alaska and Yukon Tokens has been released. It was published by McFarland & Company, the price is $49.95 and can be purchased from them at www.mcfarlandpub.com or 1-336-246-4460.
I have received a review copy and cannot express how pleased I am. Primarily, this reference lists pre-statehood Alaska tokens (some exceptions are noted). Added to this edition for the first time are tokens from Canada's Yukon Territory. As with all catalogues of this nature, they are never complete. New tokens will continue to appear. This is a great update on the previous edition.
It has been about 15 years since the second edition. Understandably, there are 55 new issuers and 239 previously unlisted tokens. Rather than re-number the entire catalogue as was done in the second edition, the use of decimals allows new issuers to be placed in alphabetical order. New tokens from previously known issuers are placed at the end of the series with a new letter designation.
The catalogue is profusely illustrated. While not all tokens are illustrated, the number of illustrations is more than sufficient. Major rarities are illustrated, as are most of the new issuers' tokens. When there are varieties, the tokens are illustrated, or at least described in such a manner that it is easy to distinguish between them.
The descriptions of token issuers are expanded and more period photos are used. This allows the reader to better grasp the historic value of the token.
Mavericks can be a problem area. When a maverick is generally accepted, because of overwhelming evidence to be from a certain location, it is included without special note. Others are shown as "attribution tentative" or "attribution speculative." When a token has a possible alternative attribution, Mr. Benice goes into detail to justify its inclusion or omission (Juneau comes to mind).
While the general scope of the catalogue is pre-statehood, all military tokens are included as they are still truly tokens. In the past 15 years, many previously unreported chits have surfaced. Most are of modest value, but there are exceptions.
Commercial fishing has played a huge role in the development of Alaska. Many of the rarest Alaska tokens are from these companies, and quite a number have come to light since the last edition. As with the military tokens, many chits used by these companies are now just becoming known and these are included.
Transportation tokens is another area where tokens from the statehood era are also listed. Most are common, but there are some rarities, and these are listed and illustrated. Food Stamp tokens are listed, but not illustrated. Prison tokens are included for the first time. Since Alaska is a small state, only a few are known. Mr. Benice feels this is a trial listing, and that perhaps more are out there. Rounding out the Alaska section are the Metallic Identification Chits, many issued by companies that also issued tokens. For others, it is the only metallic numismatic item from the company.
New to this edition are the listings for Yukon tokens. This is divided into two sections: metallic and modern plastic. Several Alaska issuers will also be found in the Yukon section. The history of the two territories was so intermeshed in the gold rush days that the Fourth of July was actually celebrated in Dawson, Yukon.
The addition of 239 new tokens is an achievement, but the changes in pricing since the last edition is really the significant change.
Pricing is always a controversial area. The values shown in the catalogue are based on sales records. Because of very limited sales records on the rarest items, this is not an easy task. Sellers will think values are too low, while buyers will think they are too high. In the 15 years since the second edition, prices have escalated dramatically. While I might have disagreement with Mr. Benice on individual items, overall, I believe he has done a good job balancing the real world with the hype.
Many rare tokens have been bringing astounding prices, but if another shows up, is that price going to hold? As Mr. Benice mentions, eBay has shown how common or scarce a token might really be. Those tokens from known hoards find their prices reduced in this edition. Truly scarce and rare tokens have seen significant increases in catalogue price. Common tokens remain inexpensive. Mid-range tokens have generally stayed the same, with a few moving up or down in value.
Mr. Benice has expressed a prejudice against cardboard tokens. Most of these tokens are priced at lower levels than a comparably rare metal token (composition is one of his criteria for establishing value). This is unfortunate because they are more subject to deterioration than metal tokens. It is good to see that the rarer of these have enjoyed a reasonable price increase.
A 14 page index caps off an excellent reference, making it simple to locate that token without a place name.
On the negative side, I have a few minor points.
The third edition is soft bound. Having grown accustomed to hard bound, and worn out a couple copies of the second edition, it seems that I will have to keep sufficient copies on hand just to replace those that I abuse.
Missing from this edition are the short, geographical descriptions of the cities, towns and villages. I think this will be missed. Many without an intimate knowledge of Alaska geography will be scrambling to a map to see where the tokens are from.
Food stamp tokens got a brief mention in the second edition. There is a complete listing in the third edition. However, there were more illustrated tokens in the previous edition. It would have been nice to have an obverse photo from each issuer for reference.
Catalogues like this are more than just a list of tokens. If you go beyond the tokens, and examine the issuers, you get an idea of the people who came to Alaska, rushed from gold rush to gold rush, and settled in the last frontier. Failure to recognize this as a commercial or mercantile history would be a mistake. While this catalogue is a must for token collectors, it also provides a look into the history of the territories as expressed by the merchants, hoteliers and saloon keepers.
I expect my shipment to arrive in mid-January. I am preselling at $46, postpaid. Suggested retail is $49.95.