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.


Albion Recorder, Monday April 20, 1998, Page 4A

April 19-25 happens to be National Coin Week, and this week I’d like to feature a “coin” used right here in Albion during the Civil War which was produced by a local businessman. During the Civil War there was a coin shortage, and to alleviate it the government produced paper money in various cent denominations, called “fractional currency.” Local merchants also had their own cent-sized tokens minted during the early 1860s to help alleviate local shortages and to advertise their businesses. These are called Civil War Store Card Tokens by collectors today.

Two such downtown Albion businesses produced their own coins in 1863. One, tokens of the Comstock Brothers Druggists were discussed in this column in January. The other token was issued by a prominent Michigan educator who operated a business school here, the Hon. Ira Mayhew (1814-1894). The school was called the Albion Commercial College, not to be confused with Albion College where Ira had served as principal of the Albion Seminary in 1853.

The Hon. Ira Mayhew

Ira Mayhew came to Michigan from New York in 1843, and was a highly recognized educator. From 1845 to 1849 he was Michigan’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction and again from 1854 to 1849. Mayhew established the private banking firm of Mayhew & (Samuel V.) Irwin in 1859, which later became the National Exchange Bank of Albion in 1866.

In 1860 Ira opened his business school. It was first located in Howard Hall, which today is the third floor above Sam Friia’s law office. The Albino Commercial College established its permanent headquarters on the third floor of the Peabody block on the southwest corner of Erie and Superior Sts., above where Lautenslager-Lipsey is today. This was in the days before elevators or special ramps for those physically challenged.

During the same time period he was conducting classes, Mayhew served as Albion’s Village president in 1861, and in 1862 was appointed by U. S. President Abraham Lincoln as the collector for Internal Revenue for the 3rd District of Michigan. “On the side,” Ira was also the “official agent” for Wheeler & Wilson’s sewing machines. He was a busy man indeed. His home, built in 1857, was located at 604 E. Erie St. and is still standing today.

Mayhew’s “claim to fame” was his 1851 book entitled “Mayhew’s Practical Book-Keeping,” which had become so popular, that by 1873 it was in its 90th printing. The “Michigan Farmer” magazine once said “It is at once the cheapest and the best work on book-keeping we have ever seen.”

This week we present a photograph of Mayhew’s Civil War token dated 1863. It is the size of a cent, and was minted in bronze. The legend on the obverse reads, “MAYHEW’S PRACTICAL BOOK-KEEPING, THE CHEAPEST AND THE BEST, 1863.” The reverse states “ALBION COMMERCIAL COLLEGE, IRA MAYHEW, PRES’T, ALBION, MICH.”

Mayhew's Civil War Token 1863

Ira Mayhew apparently left Albion with a cloud hanging over his head, and moved his school to Detroit in 1869. After a series of mergers it became the Detroit Business College. In 1868 his business school premises here suffered a suspicious fire, with the local press pointing to Ira as the cause. The local Democratic Party paper, the Albion Mirror warned in its November 4, 1869 issue, “As to the doings of Ira in Albion… we have only to say to the business men in Detroit: look out for Ira Mayhew, for time will demonstrate to all with whom he comes in contact in social or business relations, that we have done him simple justice. As to the burning of Ira’s Commercial College here, we have only to say that he arrived here about noon, called upon his insurance agent, and before bed time the rooms of the college were burning. But a few minutes elapsed after which he left the rooms, where the fire was discovered. Most people, respectable, think the fire occurred very mysteriously.”

If you would like to learn more about the science of numismatics (that’s the technical word for coin collecting) and see some fascinating displays, as well as buy and sell among over 130 coin dealers in one place, the Michigan State Numismatic Society will be holding its Spring Convention this coming May 1-3 (Friday through Sunday) at the Lansing Center in downtown Lansing. Admission is free, and the event includes a youth program on Saturday, a coin auction on Friday and Saturday, educational forums, and gold raffle prizes. Drop on by and bring the whole family for a monetary weekend.

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