History Token Description The Use of Tokens Reference Books and Token Prices Pennsylvania Communion Tokens References List of Known Pennsylvania Communion Tokens
Figure 1

A few years ago, a past president of PAN, showed me a recently purchased book, Communion Tokens of the United States of America (1). Knowing little about communion tokens, I started to page through the book, trying to learn why and when these tokens were used. As I came to the section on Pennsylvania tokens, I was both surprised and delighted to learn that one church in my home town, the United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum, had used communion tokens. I have always enjoyed collecting, and being able to show others, local numismatic items. Even non-collectors, who rarely become excited when shown U. S. or foreign coins, are often thrilled to see merchant tokens, national bank notes, old postcards and other local exonumia. I immediately decided to find and purchase one of these tokens for my collection. Little did I realize at the time how difficult this task would be. I began to visit flea markets, I searched at coin shows, I spoke to several members of the United Presbyterian Church, and I requested price lists from communion token dealers. The more I searched for this one token, the more fascinated I became with all communion tokens. A few months later, I purchased a nice Canadian communion token to be able to show people what communion tokens look like. Six months later, I was buying any token that was different from the ones I already owned. By the end of the year, I was hooked on being a communion token collector.

After nearly five years of searching, I finally located and purchased one of the Tarentum tokens (lead, 9/16" diameter) (Figures 1, 2). For me, collecting communion tokens has been a tremendous challenge and a lot of fun. I suggest that if you are looking for something new, different and challenging to collect, try to find a token from a church in your town or from one of the neighboring communities.

I imagine, that by now, some of you may be wondering: "What are communion tokens?", When were communion tokens made and how were they used?", "What were these tokens made out of and in what shapes and sizes?", and finally "What does one pay to purchase a communion token?" Let me try to answer these questions before providing some information on the communion tokens of Pennsylvania.


Communion tokens were first recommended by John Calvin with the intent that no unworthy person would be admitted to the communion service. They were first used in the Reformed Church of France in the year 1560. The Dutch used tokens in Amsterdam as early as 1586. England and Ireland began to use communion tokens near the end of the 16th Century when authorities found it useful to know who did or did not conform to the legal form of worship of the state church. The Catholic churches in France may have been using tokens as early as 1613.

But it was in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland that communion tokens were most widely used. Many believe that there was a second reason for using tokens, to protect communicants from betrayal by spies during periods of religious persecution. The use of communion tokens in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland began during the reign of the Stuarts in 1605. The conflict between church and state continued until the reign of William and Mary and the establishment of the Presbyterian Church as the Church of Scotland in 1690. For nearly 50 years, the Presbyterians had been forced to meet in glens or other secluded places at long and irregular intervals to celebrate the communion service. When the struggle between the church and state finally ended, the use of tokens was by then considered to be an essential part of the Scottish communion service. Communion tokens were used in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland until World War I and a few of the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in the United States and Canada may have used tokens until about 1950. A number of churches have issued tokens in recent years, but these are normally replicas to commemorate a church centennial or some other important event.

Communion tokens have been used in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Italy, Africa, India, South America, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Churches in at least 24 states in the United States issued communion tokens. But it was in Scotland where the tokens had their deepest roots with over 5000 different types being recorded.


Practically all of the earliest communion tokens were made of lead or pewter while more modern examples exist in aluminum, tin, brass, zinc, copper, wood, and ivory. The earliest tokens were crude, blank pieces of metal with no information stamped on either side. Some tokens made in the 1800's were still blank, such as the square pieces of zinc metal that were used by a church in Freeport, Pennsylvania. These early tokens were followed by tokens with one or two stamped letters that helped to identify the church. The initials could be for the name of the town, the church, or the minister. A second type have only a date, which could indicate the founding of the church, the installation of the minister, or the year the token was first used. A third type shows a bible verse, such as "Give Me Thy Heart" or "I am the Bread of Life." Over 90 different bible verses have appeared on communion tokens. The two most common Biblical inscriptions are "This Do in Remembrance of Me" and "Let a Man Examine Himself." Some tokens use all three designs or different combinations of the three.

Communion tokens have been made in many shapes--round, square, oblong, oval, and heart shaped. They also vary greatly in size and thickness, the smallest being the size of a dime, while others are as large as a silver dollar.

The earliest tokens were normally produced by a local metal smith under the supervision of a committee or the church elders. The tokens were the property of the minister and were retained by him when he moved to a new church, where they were used with no regard for the design or legend. Tokens of the 18th century were often made by a commercial die sinker with very elaborate and attractive designs. These tokens often portray a picture of the communion table, a burning bush, the arms of the city, or a view of the church. On some tokens the full name of the church, town, or minister may be included. The die sinkers also prepared stock tokens that showed no local designation and were used by several congregations that could not afford to purchase their own dies.

The earliest communion tokens were considered to be holy objects. When a church found it necessary to secure new tokens, the elders had the responsibility to either melt, bury, or in some way destroy the old tokens. In later years, congregations were less concerned with the holiness of the tokens and many tokens were retained by individual members as souvenirs.

During the 1800's, many churches switched from using metal tokens to cards (Figure 3) which could be produced at a much lower cost. In addition to lowering the cost, the cards could also include much more information. Many of them had several verses from the Bible, the name and location of the church, the date, and the name of the person who received the card.


The Presbyterian Church is organized with a form of government similar to that of the earliest Christian churches. Each congregation selects its own minister who is an ordained member of the clergy. The minister elects, from the members of his church, several "elders" who must be ordained before taking office. The minister and elders form the "Session" which makes all decisions for the congregation. In earlier times the communion service was held only once or twice a year, proceeded by several days of preparation. All communicants had to attend classes prior to the communion service. A communion token was given to each participant if the Session felt that the person was worthy to receive communion. All new members or visitors had to pass an oral exam that was based on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, and the Short Catechism.

On the day of the communion service, tables were placed in the front of the church. The bread and wine were placed on the tables and communicants would take their place at one of the tables according to the table number stamped on their token. Some churches had tokens with numbers 1 to 7, indicating that up to 7 tables were used. Anywhere from 12 to 40 communicants were assigned to a single table. Archibald McLean (2) notes that the church records from Perthshire, Scotland, written in the year 1791, state that 29 tables were served and the total number of communicants was 2361.

Many churches other than the Presbyterian Church used communion tokens, including the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Free Church, Baptist, Reformed Presbyterian, the Relief Church, and Roman Catholic. In most of these churches, communion tokens were used as tickets to gain admission to the communion service. Unlike the Presbyterians, the ministers of the other churches did not take the tokens with them when they moved to a new location.

Some churches in Great Britain required both religious instruction and payment of a small fee to obtain a Communion token. The records from St. Saviors Church in Southwark indicate that during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in 1596, 2200 tokens were sold for two pence each and in 1620 nearly 2000 tokens were sold for three pence each. The records from other churches refer to the communion tokens as communion halfpence.

Some of the older communion tokens found one additional use before they were discarded. During the 17th and 18th century, the streets of every large city in Europe were crowded with beggars. In an effort to limit the number of beggars, the city issued badges for those that were permitted to beg. Occasionally, a local church would donate its old communion tokens to be used as beggar badges. Two holes were drilled in the token and a cord attached so the beggars could wear the token around their necks.


There are a number of reference books and articles written on communion tokens. Most Scottish tokens have been catalogued by Brooks (3), Rev. Robert Dick (4) or by Kerr and Lockie (5). An article written for the TAMS journal by Grieg, Robinson, and Woodside (6) describes the tokens of Australia and New Zealand. A second article by Woodside (7) is a bibliography listing 104 books and articles on communion tokens. Canadian communion tokens are outlined in the books by Bowman (8) and McLachlan (9). The most complete reference book on communion tokens is by O. D. Creswell (10) listing over 6500 tokens. The communion token book by Autence Bason is an excellent reference for all United States tokens. Unfortunately, none of these books have any information on token prices and very little data on the number of tokens that were originally minted, or more important, on how many of these tokens still exist.

As little as 15 to 20 years ago many Scottish communion tokens could be purchased for about a dollar. These same tokens now cost $5 to $20. The tokens from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand can be purchased for $15 to $50, while the communion tokens of the United States are generally valued between $100 and $500. In spite of this scarcity, United States tokens still show up at flea markets or in estate sales.


The tokens from the Conecocheague Presbyterian Church (Welsh Run, PA), dated 1748, are the oldest dated communion tokens used in the United States. Several other Pennsylvania churches began to use tokens during the late 1700's. Junkin Tent and Octorara in 1752, Derry and Paxtang during the 1750's, Mercersburg in the 1770's,

Mingo in 1797 and the Associate and Eighth U P Philadelphia Churches in 1799. Over 200 different tokens have been used by churches located in 28 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. A list of the Pennsylvania churches plus the Bason reference number is included with this article. Nearly all of the communion tokens that were used in the Pennsylvania churches were either struck or cast in lead. The remainder were made in pewter, with one or two examples in copper bronze, brass, wood, zinc, and German silver.

Most Pennsylvania communion tokens were crude pieces of metal with only one to three letters stamped on the token representing the name of the church or the initials of the minister. A few tokens have familiar bible verses, such as "Do This In Remembrance of Me" or "'The Bush Was Not Burned". There are, however, several very interesting and attractive tokens. The General Assembly Church in Philadelphia had on the obverse of their token "United Centennial Celebration; 1888; Lampades Multae; Una Lux." On the reverse is the message "To Commemorate the Completed Organization of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; May 1788." Another unusual token is from the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. It has on the obverse "Shew the Lord's Death Till He Come; This Do In Remembrance of Me; There I Will Meet With Thee" and on the reverse "Quarter Century Memorial Communion Token; Henry C McCook Installed Pastor of the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia: Jan 18 A. D. 1870." A third example is the pewter tokens of Plain Grove (Lawrence Co.) having on the obverse "Plaingrove Token; U. P. C." and on the reverse "Christ Our Passover is Sacrificed for Us"

Some Presbyterian churches or an entire Presbytery have in recent years prepared communion tokens to celebrate special occasions. A recent example of an anniversary token is the plastic token (Figure 4) that was distributed by Redstone in 1981 to celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of the Redstone Presbytery. The tokens were presented to the adult members of all the Presbyterian churches that are located in the Redstone Presbytery. The obverse of the token reads "Presbytery of Redstone; September 19, 1781; Cambria, Somerset, Westmoreland, Fayette". The reverse of the token is blank.

Finding information on some of the earliest Pennsylvania churches can be a real challenge. Trying to find data on the communion tokens themselves may be much more difficult. The first place to search for information is church records, if the church or a merger of the original church still exists. Next, I would recommend the local library where county and local history books often provide very valuable information.

I was delighted to find in the history of Armstrong County, PA (11) a nice account of the Rural Valley United Presbyterian Church (B346). "It was of logs 24 X 24 feet, and when the congregation outgrew it, they simply laid open one side and added another length of logs. It was heated by a single stove and the crowd was deepest upon the side where the little heater stood. The pulpit was a ten-bushel store box endwise and the seats were oak slabs, the sawed side up, each supported by four peg-legs. The communion 'tokens' were manufactured by Richard E. Caruthers, one of the first elders. They were of lead, the size of an old-style copper cent, with the letters R V stamped thereon. These tokens were given to the people at Saturday eve service, and were taken up the following Sabbath after the members were seated at the communion table. An elder passed along on either side of the table and the tokens were dropped into his hand. In 1850, Elder Totten purposely failed to take up these tokens at communion one Sabbath. Many of the surprised members offered them to him after the service, but were told to retain them as souvenirs of a dying custom."

The Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh has a large collection of books on the history of many Pennsylvania churches. The Pittsburgh Theological Seminary also has a nice assortment of books, articles, and papers on the subject. In Philadelphia, both the public library and the Presbyterian Historical Society are excellent sources for church histories. The Historical Society in Philadelphia has put together an outstanding collection of communion tokens. (Note. The communion tokens from the Carnegie Museum numismatic collection in Pittsburgh are now part of the Philadelphia collection).

Unfortunately, the reference books on communion tokens contain little, if any, information on the communion cards that were used by churches in Pennsylvania. Mrs. Bason lists only sixteen communion cards in her book, but there were many other churches that used cards.

There is still much research to be done on the communion tokens of Pennsylvania. A number of Presbyterian churches in the United States, that used tokens, are not listed in Mrs. Bason’s book. It has been suggested, that all Pennsylvania Presbyterian churches, organized before approximately 1870, probably used communion tokens. New tokens, communion cards, and souvenir tokens are still being reported. There are a few tokens where only 1 to 10 specimens are now known to exist. In spite of this scarcity, rare tokens still show up at flea markets or in estate sales. Maybe it's knowing that one can still find and purchase a rare token that makes communion token collecting so exciting. Or maybe it's the fact that over 10,000 different tokens have been made, all existing today in very limited numbers with no mintage figures or price guides, that makes communion token collecting a very challenging and exciting hobby.

Special thanks to Mrs. Autence A. Bason for permission to publish the list of Pennsylvania churches that used communion tokens.


  1. "Communion Tokens of the United States of America," Autence A. Bason, Greensboro N.C.
  2. "A Talk on Church Tokens," Archibald MacLean, Seaby's Coin and Medal Bulletin, 1951
  3. "Communion Tokens of the Established Church of Scotland" A.J.S. Brook, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1906-07
  4. "Scottish Communion Tokens Other Than Those of the Established Church" Rev. R. Dick, Edinburgh, 1902
  5. "Communion Tokens of the Church of Scotland" R. Kerr and J.R. Lockie, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1940, 3942, 1944, 1946, 1949, and 1950.
  6. "Communion Tokens -- Australia, New Zealand and Miscellaneous Series" R.M. Greig, H. Robinson, and W.W. Woodside, 1964
  7. "Communion Tokens -- A Bibliography" W.W. Woodside, TAMS Journal, Vol. II, No. 4, August 1971
  8. "Communion Tokens of the Presbyterian Church in Canada'" F. Bowman, Canadian Numismatic Association, 1965
  9. "Canadian Communion Tokens" Volume 1 & 2, R.W. McLachlan, Charlton Numismatic Historical Series, reprinted 1991
  10. "Comprehensive Directory of World Communion Tokens" O.D. Creswell, Nadin-Davis Numismatics, 1985
  11. "History of Armstrong County, PA" Vol 1, p57, J. H. Beers Co., Chicago

Adamsville Assoc Church [Crawford Co] B185

Allegheny City, 2nd UP [Allegheny Co] B186

Allegheny City, 4th UP [Allegheny Co] B187

Allegheny City, 5th UP [Allegheny Co] B188

Anrvood [Amtstrong Co] 8189

Baxter Reformed Presb [Jefferson Co] B190

Baxter Associate [Jefferson Co] B191

Baxter United Presb [Jefferson Co] B192

Baxter United Fresh [Jefferson Co] B193

Baxter United Fresh [Jefferson Co] B194

Beaver Falls Covenanter [Beaver Co] B195

Beaver Falls Assoc, [Beaver Co] B196

Bethel [Allegheny Co] B197

Boiling Springs [Amrstrong Co] B198

Brownsdale [Butler Co] B199

Bush Creek Bethel [Westmoreland Co] B200

Buena Vista [Allegheny Co] B201

Buffalo [Washington Co] B202

Buffalo Presb [Northumberland Co] B203

Butler, First UP [Butler Co] B204

Canonsburg [Washington Co] B205

Carlisle & Big Spring [Cumberand Co] B206

Chartiers [Washington Co] B207

Chartiers Hill B208

Chartiers, Canonsburg tWashington Co] B209

Chartiers, Canonsburg [Washington Co] B210

Chartiers, Canonsburg [Washington Co] B211

Clarksburg [Indiana Co] B212

Clarksburg [Indiana Co] B213

Conecocheague [Franklin Co) B214

Conecocheague [Franklin Co] B215

Conecocheague, Fayetteville [Franklin Co] B216

Conecocheague, Greencastle [Franklin Co] B217

Deer Creek [Lawrence Co] B218

Deer Creek [Lawrence Col B219

Deer Creek [Lawrence Co] B220

Deer Creek [Allegheny Co] B221

Deer Creek [Allegheny Co] B222

Derry Church, Derrry [Westmoreland Co] B223

Dixmont, Reformed Fresh [Allegheny Co] B224

Dixmont, Associate Presb [Allegheny Co] B225

Doe Run Church, [Chester Co] B226

Duncannon Presb [Perry Co] 8227

East Kishacoqillas, Reedsville [Mifflin Co] B228

Franklin Reformed Presb [Frankin Co.] B230

Freeport Associate [Armstrong Co.] B231

Glade Run UP [Allegheny Co] B234

Glade Run UP [Allegheny Co] B235

Great Conowago Presb, Hunterstown [Adams Co] B236

Greensburg [Westmoreland Col B237

Guinston [York Co] B238

Greensboro Presb [Greene Co] B239

Hanover Church [York Co] B240

Hanover Presb [York Co] B241

Hart’s Log, Alexandria [Huntingdon Co] B242

Hart’s Log, Alexandria [Huntingdon Co] B3243

Hart’s Log, Alexandria [Huntingdon Co] B244

Hart’s Log, Alexandria [Huntingdon Col B245

Hart’s Log, Alexandria [Huntingdon Co] B246

Huntington Assoc [Huntington Co] B247

Ingleside [Westmoreland Co] B248

Ingleside [Westmoreland Co] B249

Junkin Tent [Cumberland Co] B250

King's Creek, Frankfort Springs [Beaver Co] B251

King's Creek, Frankfort Springs [Beaver Co] B252

Laurel Hill [Fayette Co] B253

Laurel Hill [Fayette Col B254Lewistown Church [Mifflin Co] B255

Lewistown Church [Mifflin Co] B256

Lick Run Church [Union Co] B257

Little Beaver [Lawrence Co] B258

Mahoning [Lawrence Co] B259

Mahoning [Lawrence Co] B260

Mechanicsburg [Indiana Co] B261

Mercer Assoc [Mercer Co] B262

Mercersburg Assoc [Franklin Co] B263

Mercersburg Assoc jfranklin Co] B264

Mercersburg Assoc [Franklin Co] B265

Mercersburg Assoc [Franklin Co] B266

Mercersburg Assoc [Franklin Co] B267

Mercersburg Assoc [Franklin Co] B268

Mercersburg Assoc [Franklin Co] B269

Mercersburg Assoc [Franklin Co] B270

Middietown· [Butler Co] B271

Middletown [Butler Co] B272

Mingo Presb, Findleyville [Washington Co] B273

Mill Creek, Service [Beaver Co] B274

Mill Creek, Service [Beaver Co] B275

Mill Creek, Service [Beaver Co] B276

Mill Creek, Service [Beaver Co] B277

Mill Creek, Service [Beaver Co] B278

Mill Creek, Service [Beaver Col B79

Milton Presb [Union Co] B280

Mount Hope [Washington Co] B281

Mount Hope [Washington Co] B282

Mount Hope [Washington Co] B283

Mount Jackson [Lawrence Co] B284

Mount Jackson [Lawrence Co] B285

Mount Jackson [Lawrence Co] B286

Mount Pleasant [Washington Co] B287

Mountville [Lawrence Co] B288

Mountville [Lawrence Co] B289

Mountville [Lawrence Co] B290

Muddy Run [Lancaster Co] B291

Muddy Run [Lancaster Co] B292

Neshannack [Lawrence Co] B293

New Alexander [Westmoreland Co] B294

New Alexander [Westmoreland Co] B295

New Castle [Lawrence Co] B296

Newville [Cumberland Co] B297

Noblestown [Allegheny Co] B298

North Buffalo [Washington Co] B299

Octorara [Lancaster Co] B300

Oxford UP [Chester Co] B301

Oxford UP [Chester Co] B302

Parnassus Reform [Westmoreland Co] B303

Path Valley B304

Paxtang [Dauphin Co] B305

Peters Creek [Washington Co] B306

Slate Ridge, Delta [York Co] B307

Philadelphia, Assoc [Philadelphia Co] B308

Philadelphia, Assoc [Philadelphia Co] B309

Philadelphia, Redeemer [Philadelphia Co] B310

Philadelphia, Covenant [Philadelphia Co] B311

Philadelphia, 8th UP [Philadelphia Co] B312

Philadelphia, First Reform [Philadelphia Co] B313

Philadelphia, General Assem [Philadelphia Co] B314

Philadelphia, 2nd Reform [Philadelphia Co] B315

Philadelphia, 3rd Reform [Philadelphia Co] B316

Philadelphia, N. Mutchmore [Philadelphia Co] B317

Philadelphia, Scots [Philadelphia Co] B318

Philadelphia, 2nd UP [Philadelphia Co] B319

Philadelphia, 3rd UP [Philadelphia Co] B320

Philadelphia, 3rd UP [Philadelphia Co] B321

Philadelphia, Tabernacle [Philadelphia Co] B322

Pine Creek [Allegheny Co] B323

Pine Creek [Allegheny Co] B324

Pittsburgh, Assoc [Allegheny Co] B32S

PiTtsburgh, Assoc [Allegheny Co] B326

Pittsburgh, First Assoc [Allegheny Co] B327

Pittsburgh, First Assoc [Allegheny Co] B328

Pittsburgh, First Assoc [Allegheny Co] B329

Pittsburgh, First Assoc [Allegheny Co] B330

Pitsburgh, First UP [Allegheny Co] B331

Pittsburgh, Hebron [Allegheny Co] B332

Pittsburgh, First Reform [Allegheny Co] B333

Plane Grove [Lawrence Co] B334

Racoon Presb [Washington Co] B335

Reedsville [Mifflin Co] B228

Rehoboth [Clan'on Co] B336

Robinson's Run [Allegheny Co] B337

Robinson's Run [Allegheny Co] B338

Robinson's Run [Allegheny Co] B339

Robinson’s Run [Allegheny Co] B340

Robinson's Run [Allegheny Co] B341

Robinson’s Run [Allegheny Co] B342

Robinson’s Run [Allegheny Co] B343

Robinson’s Run [Allegheny Co] B344

Robinson’s Run [Allegheny Co] B345

Rural Valley [Armstrong Co] B346

Slippery Rock [Lawrence Co] B347

Saint Clair [Allegheny Co] B348

Saint Clair IAllegheny Co] B349

Saint Clair [Allegheny Co] B350

SBwickley Presb [Allegheny Co] B351

Sewickley Presb [Allegheny Co] B352

Sewickley Presb [Allegheny Co] B353

Silver Springs [Lancaster Co] B354

South Buffalo [Washington Co] B355

South Oil City [Venango Co] B356

Springfield [Mercer Co] B357

Stanton [Jefferson Co] B358

Stone Valley [Huntington Co] B359

Strattonville [Clarion Co] B360

Tarenturn [Allegheny Co] B361

Tuscarora [Juniata Co] B362

Union [Butler Co] B363

Union, Mars [Butler Co] B364

Upper Buffalo [Washington Co] B365

Upper Octorare [Chester Co] B386

Valencia, W. Union [Butler Co] 8367

Venice [Washington Co] B368

Venice [Washington Col B369

Washington [Washington Co] B370

Washington [Washington Co] B371

Waterford [Erie Co] B372

Waterford [Erie Co] B373

Watetford [Erie Co] B374

Wayne Presb [Franklin Co] B375

West Middletown [Washington Co] B376

Westfield Point [Indiana Co] B377

Westfield Point [Indiana Co] B378

White Oak Springs [Butler Co] B379