The Beaver Falls Cutlery Company Merchant Token

The Beaver Falls Cutlery Company was established in 1867 in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. It prospered for a time, endured a major strike, and experimented with Chinese labor. The Cutlery Company appeared to leave no numismatic legacy until 1991 when its abbreviated name was discovered counter stamped on a seated liberty half dollar.

The Beaver Falls Cutlery Company was first chartered to operate in Rochester, Pennsylvania, in 1866. The next year, it established its manufacturing plant in Beaver Falls in the lower end of town near the river. This location soon became known as the "cutlery property." In 1870 it became a capital stock company with the majority of shares owned by the Harmony Society. The Harmony Society was a religious communal society that settled in Harmony, Pennsylvania, in 1804.

Eleven years later, the Harmonists moved to New Harmony, Indiana, where the Society's records report that the hostility of their neighbors forced them to move back to Western Pennsylvania. They settled in Economy in 1824, a part of present-day Ambridge, Pennsylvania. By producing quality goods with the free labor of their members, the Harmonists often undersold their competitors, thus dominating the market. However, years of professed celibacy and their inability to attract new members resulted in a significant decline in their numbers. With fewer workers, they resorted to hiring outside labor. The business focus of the Society soon changed from manufacturing to capital investment, hence, their interest in the Beaver Falls Cutlery Company.

The Harmonists' notorious thrift made them effective and successful business people, but it ultimately proved to be the downfall of the Beaver Falls Cutlery Company. The Cutlery Company went through an intense labor dispute that culminated in a bitter strike in 1872. Rather than meet the workers' wage demands, 200 Chinese laborers from New Orleans were contracted to replace the strikers for a period of five years. This management decision reduced the monthly payroll from $13,000 to $5,000. Although favorable to the balance sheet, the move was met with great resistance by local townspeople. The peaceable and industrious Chinese lived under constant fire from the local citizens. Ten Chinese workers died while employed by the Cutlery Company and a cemetery was created at the far end of town for what the townspeople referred as the "heathen Chinee." Legend has it that the bodies of the Chinese workers were exhumed and shipped back to China by some unknown benefactor. Research reveals no evidence to indicate that anyone had the interest in or the money to spend on such a project. However, it has been substantiated that their bones were removed from the ground and taken away in sacks. One theory suggests that they were "evicted" so that the property could be used for residential purposes.

The last of the Chinese workers left in 1877 when their contract expired. Their jobs were once again filled by local workers and the Cutlery Company operated for nine more years until it ceased to be profitable in 1886.

The cutlery Company produced all kinds of knives and tableware. At its peak it employed 300 workers who turned out 120 dozen finished products per day. These products ranged from finely crafted bone-handled knives to an austere, but sturdy wood-handled utensil. The former displayed a delicately etched logo "Beaver Falls Cutlery Company'' in a scroll with flowered ornamentation on the blade while the latter had a plain 27 mm stamp "Beaver Falls Cut. Co."

Curiously, company records use the term "cutlery" to describe all of its products but the company produced their share of forks as well.

The newly discovered merchant counter stamp appears on a holed 1875-S seated liberty half dollar. The counter stamp reads "Beaver Falls Cut. Co." and is 27 mm long suggesting that the same or similar punching tool was used on the coin and on the blade of the wood-handled knife. The lettering and style are virtually identical.

A local historian and author of the history of the City of Beaver Falls recalled seeing one other similarly counter stamped coin thirty or so years ago. So far, no other specimen has surfaced. There appears to be no written record of counter stamping in the company records, just as there is no written reference to the production of forks. Research efforts continue in the hope of determining when the merchant's token was produced and how many were made.