Presidential Campaign Trade Cards 
of the 19th Century

By: Roy Nuhn

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, November, 2004


The earliest consumer product to be rationed was automobile tires. This postcard is from a set published 1942 by Curt Teich Co. focusing on the public's mania about the tire shortage.

For people on the home front during World War II, from 1941 to 1945, rationing  and ration stamps were a way of life. The program was administered so that each and every family would get its fair share of the products and foods in short supply due to military needs or import reductions. Especially scarce was rubber (unhappily meaning no tires for the family jalopy) from the South Pacific, an area then occupied by the invading Japanese.

Nearly every type of clothing foodstuff, and manufactured good was rationed, including some tobacco, alcohol, shoes, sugar, and all gasoline products.

Rationing for Americans began in 1941 and lasted four years. Local centers for distribution of ration books were established in schools and town halls. Each and every family member, from the newest born to the eldest, had a book.

Basically ration currency falls into four categories. Two types of these were the most frequently used - stamps or coupons and tokens, and two types were of limited use certificates and checks. All were handled as currency by commercial banks.

Most numerous were the coupons, printed in 4x5-inch booklets, numbered one to four. Each number designated a different class of commodities and each book  contained several sheets of 48 or more stamps. Book 1, for instance, was for gasoline and there were 30 different types of gas coupons (as well as a few other formats). Book 4, on the other hand, applied to all varieties of food. To make identification of the different types easier for bewildered housewives, and to add yet another patriotic tone, each of the tiny stamps in a sheet  of some books were illustrated with a military symbol. Favorite motifs included a gun, an aircraft, naval ship, and a tank.


Ration check - issued in special cases by local O.P.A. boards.

Though tires became the first item to be rationed, in December of 1941, gasoline soon followed along the Eastern coastline. The following year, everyone  everywhere was required to sign up. To each American went a set of books designed to cover everything being rationed. Each stamp was worth no set quantity; this was determined by the OPA on a timely basis according to available supplies. On Monday, a fuel stamp might be worth 10 gallons; on Tuesday, 9 gallons; on Wednesday, 11; and so forth.

To aid the public and to keep it fully informed, the nation's newspapers published a daily "Ration Calendar" showing the current status of many categories of goods. As a example, a housewife might have read: "Last day to use stamps 4 and 5, all coupons worth 10 gallons." Or, "Spare stamp 37 must  accompany application for additional canning from rationing boards."

Tokens came into being in 1944 and lasted until 1945. In some instances, they were used instead of coupons. Each token, like a stamp, was marked as to the unit it was redeemable for. Also imprinted were letters, referring to the geographic area of issue. Altogether a total of 54 different letters were  used. There were 30 of the red tokens, meant for purchasing meats, cheeses, and fish: and 24 blue, used to buy processed foods.


Gasoline Ration Card in use during the earliest months of 1942. Eventually, these were replaced by ration stamps in booklets.

 Counterfeiting and black market operations remained critical problems. Again evoking patriotism, the government proclaimed: "The first call on the war supply of fuel oil comes from our boys overseas. The black market drains oil away from war industry, making their weapons - which they need for their very lives."  Government action aimed at blocking the counterfeiters was both devious and complicated. The paper used for printing ration coupons and tokens was manufactured at only one mill and had special fibers embedded in it. Each rationing district had its own coloring and numbers as well as special codes. There were also different categories of users, such as farmers and medical  doctors.

 The Hobby of Ration Memorabilia 

Ration relics have now become quite collectable and a hobby has long been formed around them. It is one small facet of the attraction exerted by all memorabilia associated with World War II.  

Shortly after the end of the war, the federal government disposed of its remaining supply of ration coupons in small cellophane packets. Advertised as "Library of Congress Sets," and priced at a few dollars each, they sold quickly as souvenirs and promptly disappeared into attics and cellars. Today, they are much in demand.

 The hobby of ration memorabilia is actually a branch of numismatics since the stamps and other coupons were treated as currency by the banking system. More realistically a part of American ephemera, this collectible has great appeal.

During the last 50 years, interest in American ration currency - tokens and stamps especially, and related memorabilia has grown considerably. Nationwide, the number of collectors has been estimated at between 5,000 and 20,000. Many thousands of other people save old rationing ephemera for either an enjoyable expedition into the nostalgic past or as part of an Americana, cultural, or World War II collection.


Group of different ration stamps.

 Collectors, first and all, search for the four different varieties of stamp booklets: the more complete they are, with few or no stamps missing, all the better. The stamps themselves are also in demand. Next comes the tokens and the goal here is to have a complete set of 54. Special coupons, the many different gasoline ration cards used early in the war years, special certificates and other materials directly related to use to gain goods and merchandise follow in importance.

Any and all pamphlets, booklets, posters, government regulation documents, and banking memorandums are also fair game for ration memorabilia collectors. Finally, quite a few comic style postcards, usually done on linen stock, were published. Many companies, such as Asheville Post Card Co., MWM, and Curt Teich, used rationing, especially for gasoline and tires, as a source for humor.

Let us hope that word events never supply us with additional rationing collectibles, as almost happened back in the 1970s during the Near East oil shortage crisis.

In this instance, "old" is definitely better than "new."


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