GERMANY, BAYREUTH POW CAMP, token, no date (1914-18), Obverse: KRIEGSGEFANGENLAGER BAYREUTH 2, Reverse: 2, zinc, 20mm, 2 pfennig, U3-8v, spots, Unc

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The general idea of prisons being to keep those people away from everyone else, the next question is are you going to let them engage in any kind of economy at all, or are you just going to run everything about their lives? If you let them have “real money” they will inevitably get the guards to engage in corrupt activities, so, institutional money that can’t be used anywhere else. The denominations on these chits bore no relation to normal money.

The Germans have been fans of round, flat, shiny objects since the 2nd century BC, when they made imitations of Greek coins. Coin manufacture was deeply decentralized until the 19th century, extending to jetons and medals starting in the 16th century. Local tokens began to supplement the normally chaotic coinage situation in the markets from the late 17th century. Production of tokens and medals boomed in the 19th century, and was going strong into the 1990s.

A token is used like a coin but is not a coin. Rather, it stands for a coin without the value of the coin. Maybe its copper, but says its value is the same as a silver coin. Usually tokens were made privately, but sometimes governments got involved.

The word “exonumia” is used to describe all kinds of things that are “like” coins but are not coins. I wrote a blog post on that subject. Basic categories: 1. used like a coin but not issued by a national government, 2. looks like a coin but not made for spending, 3. other things that we are interested in.