An Instance of Private Enterprise Coinage
[Originally printed in Free Star, a
Hyattsville, MD newsletter. Reprinted from the Henry George News,
June, 1969. At the time, Robert LeFevre was president of Rampart
College, Santa Ana, California. He died in 1986]
Harry W. Howard is an ingenious American. He also may have found a
unique niche is this nation's history through what was apparently an
entirely illegal, though well-intentioned, procedure of a couple of
years ago. Harry owns three gift shops out on Nantucket Island, which
is just about thirty miles off the Massachusetts coast. And because
the government couldn't seem to provide enough coinage for Harry to
make change in his gift shops, he figured he'd do something about it
After all, when you're trying to keep three places of business going,
you've got to be able to make change. Morning after morning Harry
would go to the bank to find that they couldn't give him any coins at
all. Or sometimes, if his luck were high, they'd be able to provide
one roll of quarters and maybe a roll of dimes and nickels. For three
establishments! And tourists flocking all over the place looking for
bargains. In desperation Harry contacted the firm of Enco, Inc., which
is in New York City and is a large producer of souvenirs and gift shop
merchandise. Harry wanted to know if they could make coins for him. He
wanted aluminum coins in two denominations: two bits and four bits.
On the face of the aluminum discs he had the words Nantucket Island
inscribed, also the notice that the coins were good at each of his
gift shops - and their names were included. Then on the back of each
coin was the designation "two bits" or "four bits,"
as the case might be. He had a spouting whale etched on the face and
the notice that coins would be redeemed up until 1970.
Then Harry checked around and found that most of the businessmen on
the island were happy to accept the coins. They had the same problem
Harry had. So, at the cost of $1,000 to Enco, he had $7,500 worth of
coins minted. And that's not a bad bit of business in itself.
The first week Harry put out $200 worth of the coins. By the end of
the second week there was about $1,000 worth of "whale money"
in circulation on the island. What really surprised Harry were the
letters that began coming in. Coin collectors began to hear of the
coins and wrote for them, so Harry had a lucrative business going
among numismatics almost from the first.
Then the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston moved in. It informed Mr.
Howard that the Constitution says that only Congress has the power to
coin money. It is illegal for anyone else to do anything like that.
Mr. Howard kept on, so the Secret Service was informed. They requested
that he send coin samples to Washington, which he did. From the
government's point of view, here was a man who was nearly a
counterfeiter. Yet he really wasn't. If a private citizen makes a coin
that purports to be a genuine U. S. coin, that is counterfeiting. But
the U. S. hasn't yet begun putting out "whale money," and
there was no real counterfeiting here. Mr. Howard wasn't trying to
break the law or do anything illegal. He just suddenly found himself
in the coin minting business because the government was doing such a
bad job of it.
Well, I haven't been able to get any late word on Mr. Howard.
Presumably he was forced to quit his minting business as the
government began to solve the coin shortage by minting more sandwich
coins and increasing the amount of coins in circulation. But this
little episode reveals fairly well what could happen in any community
if the government money failed and people would no longer accept it.
Ingenious businessmen could come forward with trade chits of one sort
or another and, as long as they were honest and would keep their
promises, that kind of money would serve in trade as well as any
I hope Mr. Howard wasn't punished for what was really a whale of a
good idea. Although the government may have thought this money was
kind of fishy, the customers found it entirely satisfactory. Congress
hasn't done too good a job with its monopoly in the money coining
business. Maybe it's time for businessmen to take over this task and
introduce a little competition into the field.