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20th Century North American GOOD LUCK COINS

Thanks to the kindness of Bruce Raplee and Glendon Herber, whom i met through the usenet group rec.collecting.coins, i am now the proud owner of a collection-in-the-making of some really great 20th century North American Lucky Coins. Some of these were advertising tokens, some seem to have been designed as souvenirs, others are arcade-stamped custom tokens, and one is an elongated coin with a "lucky" message instead of the customary touristic images one most commonly finds on rolled pennies.

This is far from a complete catalogue of lucky coins as objects of 20th century popular culture in North America, but it represents what has passed into my hands.

Note: In descriptions of non-monetary coins, the designations Obverse and Reverse are entirely arbitrary, so i am calling the side of the coin with the words "Good Luck" the Obverse; if the words "Good Luck" do not appear, then the side with the word "Luck" or "Lucky" is the Obverse.


(A) GOOD LUCK COINS OR "POCKET PIECES"

These are primarily bronze or gold-plated bronze coins made in sizes approximating the U.S. quarter, half-dollar, and silver dollar. Similar in size and design to souvenir good luck coins and advertising good luck coins , they are distinguished by the fact that they do not bear souvenir or advertising messages, merely promises of good luck, especially in money matters. Many display the typical North America lucky icons: horseshoe, four-leaf clover, wishbone, rabbit foot, swastika, and so forth. The height of their manufacture seems to have been in the 1930s, during the Great Depression.


A1. Good Luck Coin, bronze, circa 1930s, 31 mm.

  • Obverse: Swami in turban gazes into crystal ball with reverse swastika
  • Legend: GOOD LUCK WILL ACCOMPANY THE BEARER
  • Reverse: All-Seeing Eye with swastika, heart-padlock, four-leaf clover, elephant, horseshoe, rabbit foot, wishbone
  • Legend: THE ALL SEEING EYE GUARDS YOU FROM EVIL
  • Note: The sculptural relief on the reverse of this coin may have been engraved by the same artist who engraved the obverse of coin #A3 and coin #B1.

  • A2. Good Luck Coin, bronze, circa 1930s, 31 mm.

  • Obverse: wishbone, horseshoe, four-leaf clover within circle, separated by lines at 120 degrees
  • Legend: GOOD LUCK TOKEN
  • Reverse: eagle taking off with wings open
  • Legend: TAKE ME FOR LUCK
  • Mfgr. name on Obverse: GRAMMES, ALLENTOWN, PA

  • A3. Good Luck Coin, bronze gold plated, 1933, 33 mm.

  • Obverse: horseshoe surrounding swastika and 4-leaf clover, flanked on either side by wishbone and rabbit foot
  • Legend: GOOD LUCK COIN/1889-1933
  • Reverse: gold seal with large "W" Logo and serially stamped number in the center
  • Legend: GOLD SEAL [58521] AWARD
  • Note: The sculptural relief on the obverse of this coin may have been engraved by the same artist who engraved the reverse of coin #A1 and the obverse of coin #B1. The W logo looks familiar -- but the dates 1889-1933 mean nothing to me. Any idea what this is about? My copy of this coin was drilled for use as a pendant and the gold plating is nearly worn away. I would like to buy a better example, seeing as how this is the "LUCKY W" Archive and all. If you have one for sale, contact me at cat yronwode.


  • A4. Good Luck Sex Coin, bronze, date unknown, 38 mm.

  • Obverse: No design
  • Legend: Chinese writing, unreadable to me
  • Reverse: Four couples having sex
  • Note: This looks like a typical bronze Chinese cash coin with a square central hole -- except for the images. It is not a North American coin, but copies of it have been collected in North America and elsewhere so i include it here. My friend Ron Graham, of Forestville, California, bought one in Indiana in the early 1950s. He was told it was "a Chinese Lucky Coin." He describes it as having "Chinese writing on the front and pictures of the four major positions of fucking on the back." He sold his copy of this lucky coin when he went into the Army in the 1950s, but thanks to Vladimir Beljaev of Moscow, Russia, you can view it on its own Chinese Charms page at the Chinese Coins and Charms Web Site.

  • A5. Good Luck Coin, aluminum, circa 1960s (?)

  • Obverse: horseshoe
  • Legend: GOOD LUCK
  • Reverse: four-leaf clover
  • Note: This small, dime-sized coin may have been a cereal box premium or similar giveaway.

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    (B) SOUVENIR GOOD LUCK COINS

    These are similar to regular good luck pocket piece coins and advertising good luck coins except that they promote a tourist destination. They were often given away or sold at a nominal charge. Their purpose is dual: to bring good luck and to remind the visitor of the place where they were acquired. Many display the typical North America lucky icons: horseshoe, four-leaf clover, wishbone, rabbit foot, swastika, and so forth. The height of their manufacture seems to have been in the 1930s, during the Great Depression.


    B1. Souvenir Good Luck Coin, bronze gold-plated, 1933, 31 mm.

  • Obverse: horseshoe, rabbit foot, swastika, four-leaf clover, elephant
  • Legend: GOOD LUCK/1833 - 1933/WORLD'S FAIR
  • Reverse: Globe with three streaks spiraling off the surface (official fair logo)
  • Legend: 1933/A CENTURY OF PROGRESS/CHICAGO
  • Mfgr. name on Reverse: DODSON, CHICAGO
  • Note: The sculptural relief on the obverse of this coin may have been engraved by the same artist who engraved the reverse of coin #A1 and the obverse of coin #A3. The reverse is the official logo of the 1933 Century of Progress and was used on many items of manufacture sold at the fair.

  • B2. Souvenir Good Luck Coin, bronze, circa 1930s, 28 mm.

  • Obverse: Seven-pointed star with horseshoe in the center; a rabbit foot is suspended from the tip of each of the star's points
  • Legend: MISSION VILLAGE/GOOD LUCK/CHARM/5675/WEST WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES/BE KIND/BE/FRIENDLY/BE CHEERFUL/AND THINK/BEFORE/YOU SPEAK
  • Reverse: Mission style arch with bell on top and well beneath; arch has inscription "Auto Court"
  • Legend: MISSION VILLAGE/LOS ANGELES, CALIF./ 5675 WEST WASHINGTON

  • B3. Souvenir Good Luck Coin, nickel, circa 1960s

  • Obverse: Crossed double-headed axes (in the "cruiser" pattern, for all you axe-collectors out there) entwined by a two-person cross-cut saw
  • Legend: GOOD LUCK/SOUVENIR
  • Reverse: A man in a coonskin cap and rough frontier clothes stands in front of a log cabin and some pine trees
  • Legend: TOM's LOGGING CAMP/DULUTH, MINN.
  • Note: As my daughter Althaea said on hearing of this coin, "Hmm. That brings a whole new form of iconography to the realm of luckiness." I could have countered by referring her to the labrys or double-axe of ancient Crete, with its connotations of worship of the Goddess in her Sacred Butterfly form, or the Chinese lucky jade axe, but i didn't think of it until later.

  • B4. Souvenir Good Luck Coin, rhodium plated (?) metal, circa 1970s

  • Obverse: A large downward-facing wishbone and a small downward-facing horseshoe side by side (both are the same size) with a large star above and three smaller stars below
  • Legend: GOOD LUCK/SOUVENIR
  • Reverse: A rather cartooney drawing of Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox Babe, labelled "Paul and Babe"
  • Legend: MORELL'S TRADING POST/BEMIDJI, MINN.

  • B5. Souvenir Good Luck Coin, rhodium plated (?) metal, circa 1970s

  • Obverse: A downward-facing horseshoe with a wishbone wrapped around one of its legs
  • Legend: GOOD LUCK/SOUVENIR.
  • Reverse: A Viking man wearing a horned helmet and carrying a spear and round shield standing beside another person (possibly a woman) who is crouching beside a large boulder and carving runes into it with a hammer and chisel
  • Legend: ALEXANDRIA, MINN. 56308/AMERICA'S BIRTHPLACE
  • Note: As to the meaning of the image on the front of the coin, all i can say is that the person who came up with this idea had a very poor grasp of history; if Icelandic or Danish Vikings did visit the locale of Alexandria, Minnesota, during the pre-Columbian period (very much in doubt), they would have found the region well populated by Indians. There is a subtle tinge of racism in this coin, with its implication that the history of America is the history of European colonization.

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    (C) ADVERTISING GOOD LUCK COINS

    These are similar to regular good luck pocket piece coins and souvenir good luck coins except that they promote a commercial product or political party. They were often given away or sold at a nominal charge. Their purpose is dual: to bring good luck and to remind the visitor of the consumer product or political candidate with which they are associated. Due to their nature as advertising pieces, these coins are less likely than other good luck coins to display the typical North America lucky icons -- except for the elephant, which does double duty as a good luck symbol and as the mascot of the Republican Party. The height of their manufacture seems to have been in the 1930s, during the Great Depression.


    C1. Political Advertising Good Luck Coin, bronze gold-plated, circa 1930s, 25 mm.

  • Obverse: Elephant
  • Legend: COOPER/LUCKY POCKET/PIECE
  • Reverse: No design
  • Legend: GOOD FOR/2/YEARS OF/PROSPERITY/IN OHIO
  • Note: the elephant appears here both as the proverbially lucky white elephant and as an icon of the Republican Party; the "prosperity" promised by the coin was presumably conditional upon the election of Mr. Cooper. In 1999, a reader named kkcueto@aol.com contacted me with the following information about this coin: "Myers Y. Cooper was a former governor of the state of Ohio. I know one of his grandsons still here in the state." So it looks like this coin was very, very lucky indeed!

  • C2. Advertising Good Luck Coin, bronze, 1933, 26 mm.

  • Obverse: Laurel wreath with ribbon
  • Legend: 76/LUCKY PIECE/1933
  • Rx. No design
  • Legend: INCREASED/ANTIKNOCK OF 76/TURNS WASTE/HEAT INTO/POWER!

  • C3. Advertising Good Luck Coin, bronze gold-plated, 1933, 33 mm.

  • Obverse: Left facing bust of Ed Friedrich
  • Legend: 1883 FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY 1933/GOOD LUCK
  • Reverse: Friedrich Company coat of arms
  • Legend: 50 YEARS OF BUILDING QUALITY REFRIGERATORS/ED FRIEDRICH SAN ANTONIO TEXAS

  • C4. Political Advertising Good Luck Coin, bronze, 1936, 32 mm.

  • Obverse: Two busts, partially superimposed, one looks like FDR
  • Legend: 1836 TEXAS CENTENNIAL 1936/LUCKY COIN/HEADS YOU WIN
  • Reverse: Backside of an elephant
  • Legend: TAILS YOU LOSE/1936 [and, in a small shield, perhaps the designer's initials, "M.P.Z" and "F.J.U." ?]
  • Note: The Texas Centennial was a big World's Fair-like exposition held in Dallas in 1936. FDR was President and running for re-election that year. The coin urges the voter to not vote for the Republicans by making a visual pun on the elephant as a good luck symbol. The second bust is probably that of FDR's vice-presidential running-mate. A b&w jpeg of this coin was kindlyGood donated to this site by the coin's owner, John Montierth, who read about my collection on the net. I decided to crudely "phototint" it, just for drills. I am definitely in the market to buy an example of this coin.

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    (D) ENCASED CENT GOOD LUCK COINS

    Encased coins are customarily used for advertising purposes, but they differ from regular advertising good luck coins in that they consist of an actual piece of money, usually a copper cent, encased in an aluminum frame which bears the advertising message. The frame is most often disk-shaped, like a coin, but horseshoe-shaped encased cents are not uncommon. In addition to the advertising message, the aluminum frame often bears a slogan such as "KEEP ME AND NEVER GO BROKE." Many encased coins display the typical North America lucky icons, especially the horseshoe, four-leaf clover, and wishbone. The date on the encased coin is usually the date of manufacture, as these tokens were customarily given away to customers upon the issue of the new year's coinage. The height of their manufacture seems to have been in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, although they continue to be made to this day.

    Perhaps the most notable encased coins are those that were produced by Earl Fankhauser, "the Penny Man" of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Beginning in 1954, Fankhauser "signed" the encased advertising coins he sold to customers by adding his own name in tiny type to the aluminum die. Bryan Ryker has written a marvelous book on Fankhauser's encased coins which provides illustrated biographical information on Fankhauser, a checklist of the 650 different known patterns of Fankhauser coins, and technical data on the manufacture of encased coins in general. For more details, see Bryan Ryker's Encased Coin Web Page.


    D1. Encased Horseshoe-Shaped Advertising Good Luck Coin, aluminum/copper, 1920; 1920 Canadian copper cent pressed into center of aluminum horseshoe

  • Obverse: horseshoe surrounds wishbone, with four-leaf clover at top
  • Legend: I BRING GOOD LUCK/KEEP ME AND NEVER GO BROKE
  • Reverse: No design
  • Legend: SEMI-READY TAILORED SUITS/FIT THE HARD TO FIT

  • D2. Encased Advertising Good Luck Coin, aluminum/copper, 1937; 1937-s U.S. copper cent pressed into center of aluminum disk

  • Obverse: large horseshoe
  • Legend: I BRING GOOD LUCK/1937/KEEP ME AND NEVER GO BROKE
  • Reverse: No design
  • Legend: TURNER LOAN COMPANY/YOUR FRIEND WHEN IN NEED/1449 N. VINE ST./HOLLYWOOD, CALIF.

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    (E) ROLLED CENT GOOD LUCK COINS

    Elongated or rolled coins are coins -- usually cents -- that have been put through a penny rolling machine at an arcade or tourist destination. The image impressed into them is usually that of the tourist attraction (a notable bridge, building, landscape, or such), but occasionally rolled coins bear verbal messages such as the Ten Commandments or Lord's Prayer. Here is an elongated cent that has become a lucky coin:


    E1. Elongated Cent Good Luck Coin, copper, after 1905

  • Obverse: 1905 Indian head cent
  • Reverse: horseshoe surrounds four-leaf clover
  • Legend: LUCKY CENT
  • E2. Elongated Cent Good Luck Coin, copper, after 1980

  • Obverse: 1980s Lincoln cent
  • Reverse: slot machine showing lucky number 777
  • Legend: ATLANTIC CITY/LUCKY PENNY

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    (F) ARCADE-STAMPED GOOD LUCK COINS

    Custom-stamped aluminum lucky tokens are sold from machines at amusement parks. Depositing a coin into the machine causes an aluminum blank to drop down into a holding slot where it is visible. The purchaser selects words to custom-stamp around the flat outer ring by "typing" the letters to be imprinted one at a time and pulling down on levers on the machine. Each letter selection creates a loud "thump" as a die comes down and stamps the letter, and the coin is then rotated so that the next letter can be stamped. The letters are raised, all caps, against a cross-hatched background. The cross-hatched background is also used for skip-spaces. No punctuation marks are allowed, only the 26 letters of the alphabet and the cross-hatched blank space. There are 32 spaces that can be filled with letters. Because they are pierced, these tokens only vaguely resemble actual coinage. There are several forms of blanks made, and of course the stamping on them is as individual as the people who buy them.


    F1. Arcade-stamped Good Luck Coin, aluminum, circa 1964

  • Obverse: A pieced six-pointed star contains a bas-relief five-pointed star with rays pointing to the legend
  • Legend: LUCKY (plus the custom-stamped words chosen by the customer)
  • Reverse: No design
  • Legend: PAT./NO. 1455289/HARVARD/AUT. MACH. CO./JAMESTOWN/N. Y.
  • Note: I bought one of these coins in 1964 at Playland by the Beach in San Francisco. Here's what i, the child of Berkeley hipster-beatnik-socialists, chose to stamp, sans punctuation and diacritical marks, on my lucky coin: DONT BLOW YOUR COOL MAN. I have another lucky token identical to this that was custom-stammped STEVEN SPRINT FUCK YOU

  • F2. Arcade-stamped Good Luck Coin, aluminum, 1945

  • Obverse: A pierced central five-pointed star contains a four-leaf clover
  • Legend: GOOD LUCK (plus the custom-stamped words chosen by the customer)
  • Reverse: American flag
  • Legend: (none)
  • Note: The example shown was stamped and dated MONICA SAMLASKA MADELIA MINN.45. Monica was very neat; counting the blank space between the end of the message and the beginning, she used exactly all of the 32 spaces offered by the stamping machine.

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    (G) SPINNER GOOD LUCK COINS

    Spinners are coin shaped metal disks made so that half the image or legend appears on one side and half on the other; when the coin is suspended by the two notches in its rim and spun in its holder, persistence of vision causes the full image to appear.


    G1. Tom Mix Spinner Good Luck Coin, copper, circa 1930s

    The spinner reads "Ralston Straight Shooters" (the Ralston Purina cereal company sponsored Tom Mix on the radio).

    The two sides of the disk read as follows:

    G  O
      U  K

    and

    O D L C

    which makes a completed message of

    G O O D L U C K

    plus Tom Mix's TM cattle brand


    G2. Copper Good Luck Spinner Coin, circa 1940s

  • My friend Ron Graham, of Forestville, California, says he used to own a lucky spinner coin back in Indiana in the early 1950s which showed a man on one side and a woman on the other, "and when you spun it, they were *fucking*!" Unfortunately, Ron sold this lucky coin when he went into the Army in the 1950s, so no picture is available.

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    I am currently buying good luck coins of all the above types. If you have any for sale, please send descriptions and price quotes to me, catherine yronwode, at cat yronwode.

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