(Editorial Note: Part 125 of a series of further development in the early days that impacted the settlement of Franklin County. Sources: The Preston Citizen; The History of OPA Tokens, Bob’s Blog, collector; The American Pageant, by Thomas A. Bailey; Wikipedia)
In the years following World War II children might find red and blue discs about the size of a penny or a dime in the junk drawers of their parents' and grandparents' homes. This author even managed to discover some in her Grandma’s button box, probably from grandchildren playing with them. They were perfect imaginary coins of whatever denomination was wanted in imaginary marketing systems. Grownups obviously did not need them or they would not have been cast about, willy-nilly.
The discs were about the same thickness as a penny, built to endure and fulfill their purpose. What was that purpose?
Part of the tight economy of World War II, these "tokens" were used as change in the rationing system developed by the Office of Price Administration and are now a collector’s item and worth "real money."
WWI and WWII were years of rationing, of ‘tightening the belt’ for most households in the United States. “America was already partially geared for a war economy when the galvanizing blow fell at Pearl Harbor. Allied orders for munitions, plus lend-lease operations and defense appropriations, had all contributed to the chassis of a mighty war-production machine. But at the outset we were only ankle-deep in the conflict. Vital materials were in dangerously short supply, partly because we had failed to stockpile enough needed commodities.”
Shortly after Pearl Harbor the Japanese overran British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies and this stopped the US supply source of natural rubber and cut off most of the country's essential tin and quinine. Substitutes for these critical items were urgently needed -- and they were eventually found, but first things had to come first.
A War Production Board was formed and halted non-essential building on a local level, to conserve materials for war purposes. Priorities were set up for most industries. The nation was making haste, but there was still an amount of red tape to be unwound.
“The rationing of goods to the consumer was undertaken on a huge scale for the first time in American experience.” The “Hooverizing” of World War I was not enough. There was rationing for butter, meat, gasoline, sugar, coffee, tires, shoes, canned goods, and other necessities and, with the cooperation of consumers, the system worked fairly well. Of course there was a minority of selfish individuals who patronized illegal sellers of these very same goods, the “black marketeers” and “meatleggers.”
This new wartime economy boosted prices somewhat, with inflation reaching into every pocketbook and paycheck. The Office of Price Administration came into being, and it enjoyed considerable success in keeping rents and commodity prices within reach of the common man.
“The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was established within the Office for Emergency Management of the United States government by Executive Order 8875 on Aug. 28, 1941. The functions of the OPA were originally to control money (price controls) and rents after the outbreak of World War II.”
The OPA came up with a variety of tools in its efforts to control the rise of prices and the distribution of goods. The Office of Price Administration used OPA stamps, coins, and chits for rationing... Red and blue OPA tokens were used by retailers to give change back for food bought with ration stamps.
Red OPA’, used for meats and fats, are a lot more common than blue ones, which were used for processed foods. "There are 30 different known red tokens and 24 known blue ones. Blue ones read: OPA Blue Point 1 (with two different letters) and the red ones read: OPA Red Point (with two different letters).
"What was the reason for the letter on the tokens? One theory was that they were random and a way of preventing counterfeiting.” Both red and blue are all vulcanized fiber (celluloid) and 16mm in size." Some tokens are more valuable than others.
It is the letter combinations that make a difference. According to one collector: "The hardest combos to locate are MV, WC, WH, and MM. The MV has sold for as little as $125 on eBay and as much as $260 on eBay.” Tokens stopped being issued in 1945.
The Preston Citizen of September, 1944, published this alert to its readers. “Consumers are urged by the OPA to spend all their blue tokens as they will not be accepted as ration currency after October 1. If you have fewer than ten tokens, you may pool them with another person and use them.” Who would have guessed that the funny money in the junk drawer would become a treasured collector’s item in the next 50 plus years?