Special Collections exhibit features trade tokens

“Trade Tokens of the Triple Cities, A Look into the Past” will be on display through the spring semester at Bartle Library. Photo by Jonathan Cohen

Binghamton University’s Special Collections Department is currently displaying an exhibit titled “Trade Tokens of the Triple Cities, A Look into the Past” that explores the history and use of trade tokens in the Binghamton area.

Trade tokens originated in the United States during the 1820s as coin-like pieces made from brass, nickel or aluminum, and eventually plastic during World War II when metals became scarce. They were commonly distributed by local merchants to offer patrons a discount on merchandise, and are considered to be some of the earliest forms of advertisement, the precursor to the modern-day coupon.

“The trade tokens were developed as a way for store owners to encourage customers to come into their businesses,” said Yvonne Deligato, the Binghamton University archivist who coordinated the exhibit. “It’s the original coupon, similar to what you might clip out of the newspaper today.”

The exhibit consists of four display cases whose timeline spans from the 1850s to around 1960, when their popularity hit a sharp decline. Each display utilizes the tokens, along with photographs, postcards, books, various texts and past city directories from the Binghamton University Local History Collection, to showcase different components of local business history.

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