Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Morning Star, September 7, 1997, pg. 19

These next two weeks I’d like to feature articles about the Festival of the Forks. Be sure and visit me at my Albion History Booth, in front of Citizens Bank on Saturday, September 20. I’ll have lots of Albion history items there you will be interested in.

From 1978 through 1986, 1˝ inch diameter bronze Festival of the Forks Trade Dollars were issued for use at the Festival. Designer and coordinator of the project was William M. Wheaton (presently a city councilman), a member of the now-defunct Albion Coin Club, whose initials "W.M.W." appear on the reverse of the dollars.

The obverse features the flowing Kalamazoo River design, with the numeral of the Festival (beginning with the 12th) on top. Next follows the text: "Annual Festival of the Forks, Albion, Michigan," the expiration date of October 31, and the year.

The reverse contains a large numeral "1" (1978 or 1979) or "2" (1980 and thereafter) with the words "TRADE DOLLAR" at the top, the words "Value One (or Two) Dollar(s)" over the center numeral, "Albion, Michigan" and the designer’s initials appear below.

Supposedly these bronze dollars were to be circulated in Albion, but most were saved by collectors. They were manufactured by Medallic Art Company of Danbury, Connecticut. The following are the mintage figures for each year: 1978: 1,100; 1979, 2,089; 1980, 1076; 1981, 1,150; 1982, 1,145; 1983, 700; 1984, 1,000; 1985, 1,000; 1986, 1,000.

In addition to the circulation strikes, special serial numbered dollars were minted for collectors in .999 silver. The following are the mintage figures for the silver strikes: 1978, 65; 1979, 13; 1980, 66; 1981, 61; 1982, 56; 1983, 50; 1984, 50; 1985, 50; 1986, 39. Serial numbers were engraved on the edge. In 1983 the minting firm forgot to place serial numbers on two of the silver trade dollars.

Pewter trade dollars were also minted in the following years and amounts: 1980, 28; 1981, 25; and 1982, 19. Nickel "silver" colored dollars were minted in these years: 1983, 17; 1984, 20; 1985, 14; and 1986, 19. In 1979 two .999 silver tokens plated with 14 carat gold were minted (serial numbers 001 and 002), and one was minted in 1980 bearing serial No. 001. A few off-metal strikings are known, and a brass example was struck, early on as a sample.

Begining in 1979, a 14 carat gold festival dollar was also struck and raffled off to help raise money for the project. These were individually serial numbered "001." That same year, three individuals ordered gold ones, making a total of 4, serial numbers 001-004. In 1983 the minting firm made a mistake and stamped only "12 carat" on the edge of the dollar, even though it was 14 carat. The dollar had to be sent back, and the very embarrassed officials had to re-stamp it. They now have a letter of authenticity in their files should anyone question the gold dollar in the future. No gold version was produced in 1978 or 1986.

Because the dollars were professionally produced, the production costs were enormous. The bronze dollars were sold only for face value however. With an economic downturn during the early 1980s, fewer trade dollars were ordered each year, and with expenses up, the decision was made to discontinue the trade dollar project. If you’d like to see what a complete set of these dollars look like, my display of Festival Trade Dollars will be on exhibit at Gordon Pahl Jewellers during Festival week, September 15-20.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of a complete set of .999 silver Festival Trade Dollars (serial number 011), and a close-up of the 1978 and 1979 bronze trade dollars. Special thanks to Bill Wheaton for supplying me with the mintage figures for this article.

.999 Silver Festival Trade Dollars

.999 Bronze Festival Trade Dollars

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