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Exonumia, Arcade Tokens, and McDonald’s Gift Certificates
A few weeks ago, I posted on Twitter some photos of tokens from a childhood arcade that I adored. A person who saw them emailed me to ask some questions.
In the email they said they were a numismatist, or a person who studied or collected coins and currency, but they had recently become much more interested in something I had never heard of, Exonumia.
What is Exonumia?
Exonumia are items related to Numismatics that are not coins and paper money. Lumped into this are things like the tokens I had shared.
The definition of exonumia seems broad, but according to Wikipedia it includes not just tokens, but medals, badges and ribbons. That is a pretty wide spectrum of items, and I think I have enough of those things squirreled away in boxes and drawers to qualify as an amateur exonumist.
My favorite type of exonumia?
Tokens coins have existed for millennia, with evidence going back to at least the Roman Empire. Their purpose is to act as non-standard currency in coin or coin-like form.
While their use has diminished in the modern connected world, they will still be familiar to many people who used them in arcades, subways, casinos, and even bathrooms.
Why did they use tokens instead of quarters in arcades?
While arcade machines in the United States were designed to take quarters, here are a couple of reasons why tokens might be preferable to an arcade owner.
Firstly, with tokens, you don’t have your money floating around on the floor. Once a patron exchanges their cash for tokens, you have their money in hand or in a few change machines. This cuts down on the amount of cash you need to have on hand and minimizes the potential for theft.
Secondly, they give the owner more control of their arcade’s economy. This can be something as simple as giving refunds in tokens. Which means even a dissatisfied customer will most likely re-spend that token instead of walking out the door with a quarter.
They can also give more tokens on the dollar. Which was a boon for players with limited funds who want to stretch out their money.
Finally, because of their smooth edges and consistent size, tokens are supposedly easier on the arcade machine’s coin mechanism. I am not sure if that it is an arcade science fact, but I have seen very few token arcades with jammed coin slots compared to the ones that take quarters.
While retro arcades have started to become more popular in the last decade, arcade tokens have not made the same comeback. This got me thinking about another money-equivalent that I loved getting as a kid?
McDonald’s Gift Certificates
A few years ago, McDonald’s stopped selling their well-loved gift certificates and replaced them with their gift card, the Arch Card. While I can’t argue with the convenience of the card, I have strong feelings about their gift certificates, especially during the holiday season.
Watching this older commercial got me wondering when McDonald’s first started selling their gift certificates. While I cannot find anything on their website on the subject, I was able to find old advertisements for them, with the first ones appearing around 1969. So I think it’s safe to say that they started pushing them nationally around that time.
As we move away from physical money, we are not only losing bills and coins, but the “other” stuff that we used to carry around.
It sure is nice to be able to buy things with your phone, but I miss the jingle of tokens in my pocket and constantly recounting my gift certificates and dreaming of all the milkshakes I would be drinking because of them.