Food Stamps Part 1 – 1939-43

Blue food stamps being inspected at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in 1939.

The first food stamp program was introduced in 1939 by the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation (FSCC) established by the Department of Agriculture. Advances in agricultural production during the 1920s created a surplus of foodstuffs to the point that prices became dangerously depressed. The price collapse was worsened by the Great Depression of the 1930s. During that decade the federal government tried various methods to prop up the agricultural sectors of the economy including the destruction of crops and livestock.

The FSCC was charged with dealing with the agricultural surplus. The food stamp program was the last program initiated by the FSCC. Its purpose was to aid in relief by making surplus commodities available to those in need.

There were two types of food stamps — orange and blue — both of which came in a single $.25 denomination. Participants paid face value for orange stamps and received one-half of that amount in blue stamps. Orange stamps could be used to pay for any food. Blue stamps could only be used to pay for surplus foods. The Department of Agriculture regularly published lists of what food could be purchased with blue stamps.

A $3.00 booklet of food stamps. The stamps were printed four to a page so there would have been three pages of orange stamps and two pages of blue stamps. The second page of the blue stamps consisted of two stamps and two fillers without value.

The stamps were initially sold in booklets in values of $2.00, $4.00 and $10.00 in orange stamps. Booklets with orange stamp values of $1.00, $3.00, $5.00, $6.00, $8.00 and $12.00 were added.

USDA flyer from 1942 identifying what foods could be purchased
with the blue surplus food stamps.

In 1940 the Department of Agriculture was re-organized and the issuing agency name on the food stamps was changed from FSCC to the USDA.

Two examples of food stamp change scrip. The upper piece was printed by a trade association for use by its members. The bottom piece was used in Safeway Stores in Little Rock, AR.

Merchants were prohibited from providing money as change for food stamp purchases. Instead, they produced their own tokens, scrip, due bills and other similar items as change. This permitted small purchases with food stamps but then required the customer to return to the same store to spend the food stamp change. The change returned by the merchant was specific to the type of stamp used so the tokens and other instruments used are identified as either orange or blue.

While merchants produced their own change, some grocery trade organizations made uniform scrip that could be used by individual stores by writing or stamping the name of the store on the scrip.

Additional examples of orange and blue food stamp change. This type was printed by a trade organization in New York state. The name of the issuing merchant was applied to the back.

Because they were locally produced, there are hundreds of different types of food stamp change. Paper scrip is the more common type but metal and pressboard tokens were also produced. Most types are fairly scarce although hoards of some varieties have made their way into the marketplace.

Orange and blue food stamp change tokens issued by H.C. Prange of Sheboygan, WI.

World War II brought an end to this phase of the federal food stamp program in 1943.

Stimulating the Economy in 1924 – One Cent at a Time

Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon on a 3-cent postage stamp.

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding appointed financier Andrew Mellon to the post of Secretary of the Treasury. One of Mellon’s most immediate goals was to reduce the large national debt that was incurred during World War I. His plan was to reduce tax rates to stimulate spending and to encourage tax payments.

When the federal income tax was created in 1913, the top rate was 7%. By the time World War I was over in 1918, the top rate was 77%. Under Mellon’s plan, the marginal rates were reduced throughout the 1920s so that by 1929 the top rate was 24%.

Secretary Mellon’s signature as it appears on US currency

The Revenue Act of 1924 lowered the top marginal rate to 40%, included a 25% earned income credit and retroactively gave a 25% rebate of income taxes paid in 1924 for income earned in 1923. The lowest bracket – for income less than $4,000.00 – was reduced from 4% to 2%.

In 1923, Mildred A. Demling of Buffalo was 18 years old and worked for the NY Telephone Company. She apparently had taxable income in 1923 of $1.00 and paid $.04 in income taxes. As a result of the Revenue Act of 1924, she received the 25% rebate on her 1923 taxes in the form of the check that appears above for $.01.

For reasons known only to her, she failed to cash the check and so it remains as a numismatic relic from an earlier time.

Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things (Part II) – Elmer W. Heindl

Captain Elmer W. Heindl while in service in the Philippines in 1945.

Elmer Heindl was born in Rochester, NY on June 14, 1910. Despite being in a line of work that would have made him exempt from military service, he enlisted in the US Army in March 1942 and was assigned to the 37th Infantry Division. The 37th Division was an Ohio National Guard Unit that served in the Pacific.

He was a most unlikely hero yet was awarded three of the four medals for bravery during the war.

Captain Heindl was awarded the Bronze Star Medal w/ V device for his actions in the Solomon Islands in 1943 and 1944. In July 1943 he was assisting a graves detail in completing their task of burying the dead when they came under attack by Japanese snipers. Their only refuge was the open graves they had dug. Although not a combat arms officer, Captain Heindl maintained control of the situation and was able to calmly and diligently lead the men to safety.

He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the campaign for Baguio in the Philippines. Upon receiving word that the regimental commander was overdue, Captain Heindl volunteered to accompany the men who went to look for him. They were rounding a hairpin turn in the mountains when they unexpectedly came upon two Japanese tanks traveling toward them. In the chaos of the ensuing firefight, Captain Heindl fell down the side of the mountain and improbably came to rest near the overturned jeep of the regimental commander. He rendered first aid to the unconscious man and was able to get him to safety.

Captain Heindl received the Distinguished Service Cross for action in February 1945 in the Philippines. During the liberation of Bilibid Prison in Manila, he and a medic came to the aid of two men who became trapped in a guard tower. The men had climbed into the tower to use it as an observation post to direct the American effort. Upon discovering the men in the tower, the Japanese concentrated their weapons on it. Despite the withering enemy fire, Captain Heindl and the medic twice entered the tower to retrieve both men although one of them would eventually succumb to his wounds.

Two days later, he left the protection of his foxhole to pull a wounded officer to safety while mortar shells and rockets rained down upon them. Three days after that, he dragged several wounded men to safety during a firefight that killed nine others.

Japanese Military 10 peso note from the Philippines turned into a VJ Day souvenir.
Elmer Heindl’s signature appears in the lower right corner.

What makes Elmer Heindl’s exploits so remarkable was that he carried them out without firing a single shot. In fact, Elmer Heindl did not carry a weapon. Elmer Heindl was a Roman Catholic Priest.

Fr. Elmer Heindl at his ordination in 1936.

After the war, Fr. Heindl continued service in the Army Reserve. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1990. He died in 2006. The Armed Forces Reserve Center at Ft. Benning, GA was named for him in 2012.

LTC Elmer Heindl at a Veterans Day ceremony in upstate NY shortly before his death in 2006.

Pearl Harbor Commemorative Savings Bonds

United States Defense Savings Bond issued through the Caldwell National Bank of Caldwell, NJ on December 8, 1941. Defense Savings Bonds were replaced by War Savings Bonds in January 1942.

The United States began issuing small denomination savings bonds in 1936 with the introduction of the Series A Savings Bond. On May 1, 1941, Series E Savings Bonds were first issued as Defense Savings Bonds. After the US entered World War II in December 1941, the title of the bonds was changed from Defense Savings Bonds to War Savings Bonds.

Savings bonds served two important economic purposes during the war. The primary purpose was to provide money for the government to prosecute the war. The secondary purpose was to slow inflation by removing excess money from the economy. Full employment coupled with rationing and price controls for necessities would result in excess cash overhanging the economy.

As the war progressed, war bond sales also served as propaganda tools that rallied American sentiment at home for the war. The issuing agent’s stamp on a savings bond contains the full date the bond was purchased. This allowed for the creation of commemorative bonds for significant days throughout the war.

War Savings Bond issued on December 1, 1943 bearing the December 7, 1942 commemorative stamp from the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. Frederick Schmidt, the purchaser of the bond, was in the tower at the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay during the Japanese attack on Hawaii. He retired from the Navy on December 7, 1961.
Close up of the December 7, 1942 Commemorative stamp
used by the Pearl Harbor Naval Yard.

The United States Navy used the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor to promote war bond sales by placing commemorative overprints on bonds sold at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942. Sales of the commemorative bonds were advertised throughout the country. Individuals on the mainland who wanted to purchase one of the special bonds sent payment to the Navy War Bond Office at Pearl Harbor.

Small size War Savings Bond issued on December 7, 1943 by the Third Naval District in NY with a Pearl Harbor commemorative issuing agency stamp.
Close up of the Pearl Harbor Day stamp from 1943 used by the Third Naval District in New York. The purple ink used for the stamp fades easily.

In subsequent years, the Navy held Pearl Harbor Day commemorations around the country at which special bonds were sold.

This bond was issued December 7, 1944 during the 6th War Loan Drive by the California Shipbuilding Corporation. Calship was located at Terminal Island and built 467 Liberty and Victory Ships during the war.

The Treasury Department allowed other events such as the Normandy Invasion and the end of the war to be commemorated on savings bonds. Examples of those will be shown in a future installment.

Operation Crossroads – Welcoming in the Atomic Age

Aerial photo of nuclear explosion rising from lagoon. Hemispherical condensation cloud on the surface is 1 mile (1.6 km) in diameter. In comparison, Navy ships in the foreground look like bathtub toys.
US Army photograph of the Baker Test during Operation Crossroads on July 25, 1946 at Bikini Atoll. Test Able (July 1, 1946) featured an air burst while the explosive for Test Baker was suspended below the water.

Operation Crossroads was the code name given to a series of nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific in July 1946. The tests carried out by Joint Task Force 1, a combined Army and Navy operation. The stated purpose of the tests was to observe the effects of nuclear weapons on naval vessels.

Unlike the Trinity tests in the desert of New Mexico, Operation Crossroads was a very public affair. Invited guests included a large media presence, scientists and foreign military observers.

ABLE Shot
The mushroom cloud produced by Test Able.
(US Army photograph)

Three tests were planned. Test Able was was an air burst of a 23 kiloton “fat boy”. Test Baker involved an underwater detonation of a similar device. Test Charlie was to have a deep water detonation. Problems with decontaminating the test ships after Test Baker prevented Rest Charlie from occurring.

The target fleet after Test Able. The smoke plume is from the USS Independence. (US Army photograph)

A fleet of seventy-one vessels was assembled in the Bikini lagoon as the target array. The ships were mostly American vessels including the carriers Independence and Saratoga and the battleships Arkansas, Nevada, New York and Pennsylvania. A few captured German and Japanese ships were also included.

Test Able was conducted on July 1, 1946. The bomb was dropped from a B-29 of the 509th Bomb Group. The bomb missed the target vessel, USS Nevada, by 750 yards. Five ships were sunk immediately and fourteen others badly damaged. The media was underwhelmed by the damage. The scientific evidence showed that the crew on most of the vessels would have perished from the effect of the radiation.

Test Baker took place on July 25, 1946. The device was detonated ninety feet below the surface suspended from LSM-60. While the plume from Test Able took most of the radioactive material into the stratosphere, the underwater detonation of Test Baker caused a radioactive soup to inundate the target vessels. The contamination was so bad that decontamination of most of the ships was abandoned and the vessels sunk.

The operation required the displacement of 167 natives from Bikini. Poor fishing conditions in their new home required their removal once more. Seventy-three years later Bikini Atoll remains uninhabited.

A number of numismatic items exist from Operation Crossroads. At least three different souvenir notes were printed for use as short snorters and there are chits from the recreation facilities on Kwajalein.

The first short snorter was made by the 58th Bomb Squadron of the 509th Bomb Group. The B-29 that dropped the bomb for Test Able was from the 58th Bomb Squadron.

The signatures on this note are by members of the Marine Corps detachment of the USS Fall River. The Fall River was the command ship for the target array.

The second type was printed by the Navy for JTF-1.

The third short snorter was printed for use on the USS Sumner. The Sumner was a survey vessel that conducted the preparatory work in the Bikini lagoon before the tests.

The Coral Reef Tavern was the name of the Navy run recreation facility on Kwajalein. Five and ten cent chits for use in the Coral Reef Tavern have survived.

Operation Crossroads also has a large philatelic footprint. Commemorative covers were made for most, if not all, of the target vessels as well as many of the support ships. The 58th Bomb Wing also made a commemorative cover that was carried on the plane that dropped the bomb for Test Able carrying a July 1, 1946 postmark.

When the War Department Was in the Retail Business

Image result for sewell avery
Montgomery Ward chairman Sewell Avery being forcibly removed from his office in Chicago.

One of the oddest actions of the US Army in WWII took place not on the battlefield but in an office building in the city of Chicago. Pictured above is a photograph of Sewell Avery, chairman of Montgomery Ward, being carried out of his office by two soldiers. The soldiers were apparently prepared for the worst as they are wearing steel pot helmets and carry bayonets and gas masks. It was one chapter in a very bitter and public feud between the President of the United States and the head of the largest American retail operation of the day.

On more than one occasion during the war labor unrest threatened or potentially threatened industry that was necessary for the war effort. When this occurred the President exercised emergency war powers to take control of the business. Such was the case with Montgomery Ward.

Customers in Jamaica (N.Y.) read President Franklin D. Roosevelt's proclamation about taking over the Montgomery Ward stores on Dec. 28, 1944.
Montgomery Ward customers read a notice from the War Department
announcing its seizure of the company’s Jamaica, NY facility. (AP photo).

Sewell Avery, the retailer’s chairman, did not care much for Roosevelt and the New Deal. He cared even less for labor unions. When Montgomery Ward employees began to organize, Avery threatened to close the facilities. Avery then refused to accept a union contract and the employees threatened to strike. FDR literally sent in the Army.

Claiming that the labor disruption would have an effect on the war effort, FDR had the War Department take over the operation of the facilities in December 1944.

The numismatic connection? Catalog retailers used pre-printed bearer checks for refunds. These checks could be used for future purchases or cashed at a bank. The War Department administrators at Montgomery Ward had special checks printed for refunds related to the facilities they operated.

The War Department ran the facilities until October 1945. Four different Special Representatives of the Secretary of War were in charge during these eleven months. Each of them had checks printed with their signature.

This War Department check from June 1945 is a remarkable piece. The face and back show multiple endorsements. Apparently, Mrs. Glen Knudson of Fairmount, MN kept the check until July 1971 when she used it at the Montgomery Ward store there. It was accepted and entered the banking channels.

It was first deposited into the retailers account at the First National Bank of Minneapolis. Since the check was drawn on the Continental Illinois Bank and Trust Company of Chicago, it next went to the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank who forwarded it to the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank who sent it to Continental. Continental refused the check because the check was stale and the account was closed. The remaining myriad of stamps on the back cancel the endorsements made by each bank after it was refused by Continental. It seems like an awful lot of trouble for a penny!

German Ship Money of the 1930s

Gneisenau 2 NDL.jpg
The German passenger ship SS Gneisenau of the Norddeutscher-Lloyd Line. The Gneisenau sailed between Bremen and the Far East.

In response to the Great Depression, the German government of Kurt von Schleicher instituted severe economic policies including currency reform in 1932. One of the more drastic measures imposed was making the reichsmark (RM) inconvertible and prohibiting the export of RM currency. In other words, RM could not be exchanged for foreign currency and RM notes could not be taken out of Germany. Importing foreign currency was also prohibited. These steps were intended to keep foreign exchange out of the German economy.

Excerpt from a pamphlet explaining German currency requirements for travelers.

These policies created problems for German cruise ships which used RM but could not take it out of the country. They also presented difficulties for foreigners wishing to travel in Germany because they could not obtain RM notes for use in Germany.

The currency limitations required the creation of special monetary instruments for use on cruise ships known as ship’s money orders (Bordanweisungen) and special traveler’s cheques for tourists.

One RM and five RM ship’s money orders for use on SS Gneisenau on its 15th voyage in August 1939. This was the ship’s last passenger voyage before the start of WWII. The Gneisenau was sunk by a mine in the Baltic Sea in 1943.

The ship’s money orders were denominated in RM and could only be purchased and used on board the cruise ship on that particular voyage. The ship’s name and voyage number were printed on the money orders. At the end of the voyage the money orders were exchanged back into RM notes.

Registermark cheque for 5 RM issued for use on the Hamburg-Amerika Line.

Foreigners who were traveling to Germany on cruise ships had to purchase special traveler’s cheques that were denominated in Registermarks. One Registermark was equal to one RM but the Registermark cheques could not be used for direct purchases. On ship the cheques were used to acquire ship’s money orders which were then used for purchases. Once in Germany the Registermark cheques were converted to RM notes only at approved financial institutions in Germany.

Traveler’s cheque for 25 RM purchased in New York in 1939. Eugene Prince, the owner of the check, was an American intelligence agent who traveled frequently to Germany in the 1930s.

Travelers going into Germany on land or on foreign cruise ships could not exchange their currency for RM notes directly. These travelers were required to purchase RM denominated traveler’s cheques from approved institutions outside Germany. Like the Registermark cheques, these traveler’s could not be used for direct purchases but had to be converted to RM notes once in Germany.

Upon departing Germany, travelers had to deposit their remaining RM notes with a financial institution in return for a receipt. (Travelers could bring up to 30 RM in coin into or out of Germany). The receipt was then presented to the institution outside Germany from whom the traveler’s cheques were purchased for redemption in the home currency.

These policies remained until the beginning of WWII. The Allied Military Government imposed similar restrictions on the RM after WWII but that will be a topic for another day.