The History of the Wooden Nickel

Actual Wooden Nickel

After my post ran yesterday about advice from my father, including “Don’t take any wooden nickels,” my Aunt Marjy emailed me the following:

I smiled when I saw that your dad advised you against taking any wooden nickels. My father — a lawyer — was always saying that to me, too. (It must be something one learns in law school.) Like you, I never understood what it meant. I followed my father’s advice until one day, when I was in my early 30’s, I finally rebelled: I took a wooden nickel. From my father. He loved me anyway. I still have the faux coin, too. I guess it’s okay to take a wooden nickel if you never, ever spend it.

She included this picture of an actual wooden nickel. What the what? Is that thing for real? What on earth is its history?

Let’s find out!

Wooden nickels are novelty coins, now scarce but once abundant, especially in the 1930s, though they may date back as far as the 1880s. They were usually commemorative, so, printed by the people throwing fairs or festivals, or by organizations like banks and boy scout troops, and distributed to the masses. Sometimes you could redeem them for a drink.

They also became legal-ish tender at least once out of necessity:

during the Great Depression, some towns actually allowed limited usage of wooden nickels for some transactions due to coin shortages.

Wikipedia expands on this but in abrupt and tantalizing fashion:

It was during this decade [the 30] that some banks and chambers of commerce in the United States issued wooden nickels with expiration dates to mitigate difficulties faced by merchants in making change at times of instability.

That image of a Native American on my aunt’s coin is a reference to the once popular early 20th century Buffalo nickel. A Buffalo nickel is worth a pretty penny, should you find one these days.

My favorite factoid that I’ve unearthed is that there’s a special kind of wooden nickel called A Round Tuit.

I’ll do it “when I get a round tuit!” Talk about a play on words, huh?

Round Tuit is a type of wooden nickel that has been popular for decades. Round Tuit is distributed in many venues, ranging from grand openings to fairs and festivals.

Round Tuit wooden nickels are sometimes quite witty, while others are solemnly proverbial.

In any respect, Round Tuit wooden nickels have been popular with collectors since they emerged decades ago.

O Universe! Please grant me a “Round Tuit” and I’ll never be unhappy — or at least unamused — again.

Can one still buy custom printed wooden nickels? You bet. The Texas-based Old Time Wooden Nickel Co., and that is the company’s actual name, will still complete an order for you.

The Old Time Wooden Nickel Company has been producing wooden nickels in San Antonio, Texas for over 60 years, making us one of the oldest manufacturers of custom printed wooden nickels in the United States. In 1948, we started out as the Elbee Co., a small shop that sold magic tricks and novelty items, along with custom printed wooden nickels.

In 1995, the Elbee Co sold the wooden nickel line and the Old Time Wooden Nickel Co. was established. Since then, we have modernized our design and printing methods, added new custom printed products to our inventory and developed new wooden nickel lines, expanding production to over 6 million custom printed wooden nickels each year!

You can design your own wooden nickel or have the company design one for you.

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