I was politely taken to task by a reader last week for writing more about paper money than coins. “Isn’t this a numismatic blog?” he queried. After reminding him that paper money is part of the field of numismatics, I then told him: “Don’t worry.” Which brings us to this week’s topic: tokens featuring the emblem of the Don’t Worry Club.
The Don’t Worry Club was the brainchild of Theodore F. Seward of Florida, New York. I(t was originally a religious movement. According to Seward the purpose was to overcome the habit of worrying and to study religious truth from the scientific and practical side. “This truth, when really understood, relieves the mind from anxiety and worry, and thus the movement perpetuates itself.” The precepts of the Club, as envisioned by Seward, are set forth in this excerpt from the December 19, 1897, New York Times:
Contemporary newspaper accounts indicate the Don’t Worry movement spread quickly around the country. It lost some of it religious overtones as it did. It found its biggest champion in E. W. Howe, the publisher of the Atchison Globe. He developed his own set of principles which he set forth in that newspaper in 1901. There are three basic tenets:
There are seventeen corollaries only one of which will be repeated here:
As quickly as the movement spread, so did its detractors. As early as May 1898, newspaper articles appeared ridiculing the Don’t Worry philosophy and referring to it as a fad. Merchants poked fun of it in their advertising copy.
The Don’t Worry Clubs reached their peak in the 1910s although pockets remained, particularly in the Midwest into the 1930s. At least one club was active in the Eau Claire, Wisconsin area as late as 1949.
What is the numismatic connection? Advertising tokens bearing the purported “Emblem of the Don’t Worry Club” began appearing as early as 1901. They were issued into the 1930s. One side of the token bore the merchant’s advertising. Although there are some variations, the other side featured the legend: “Emblem of the Don’t Worry Club” surrounding a large swastika. Within the arms of the swastika is a wish bone, a four leaf clover and a horseshoe. In the fourth arm are three symbols that have defied explanation.
These symbols all have one thing in common — good luck or good fortune. The token is intended as a good luck charm. Encased cents, which were also popular at this time, also were good luck pieces.
There are no contemporary explanations as to why these symbols are said to be emblematic of the Don’t Worry Club. The few sources make no reference to any symbolism for the group. E. W. Howe’s article specifically indicates that the movement had no symbols, handshakes, signs or initiation. The few modern writers who have discussed the tokens seem to have taken the statement that the tokens bore the emblems of the movement at face value.
I do not think it is that simple. The use of these symbols to represent the Don’t Worry Club appears satirical. Many of the articles that ridicule the movement assert that in order to follow its philosophy a person would have to have nothing but good fortune. Life (even at the turn of the 19th Century) has its share of stressful circumstances. Living it worry-free requires either good luck, ignorance or wanton disregard for ones own lot.
The Don’t Worry Club tokens are a popular collecting field. Hundreds of merchants used them for advertising.
Another example of satirical use of “worry” is found on this 1913 token from Aluminum Sign Company. It tells the holder that they should worry! Look closely at the text on the reverse side that informs the holder that the token and a dime will be good for 10c in trade.