Isaac N. Neher
Dell Rapids, South Dakota (Territory?)
Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company Token
I acquired this token in April, 2001 at the South Dakota Coin and Stamp Association convention in Yankton, SD. It was sold to me by a dealer who had purchased it that day from a local farmer with a box of miscellaneous junk silver coins and Lincoln Cents. The dealer announced to those of us at the welcome table that he had purchased it and asked, "Do any of you know anything about tokens?" A string of people took turns looking at it without any perceivable interest. Being a maverick (no location listed on the piece), it did not receive any offers. When I finally had the chance to view it, I asked the man his price and he said, "How 'bout three bucks?" Needless to say, it went right into my pocket.
The token is one of the many produced by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co., or BBC. This company was famous for its manufacture of billiard tables. Originally the John M. Brunswick Co., it went through many reorganizations and name changes as family members joined and left the firm and competitors were acquired or merged with. The company's offerings grew to include all manner of furnishings and equipment appropriate to pool halls and saloons. Sometime around 1874 they started selling tokens to businesses. They may have produced some of these tokens themselves, but many of them were produced by other companies. The least expensive tokens were those with the company's stock reverse that listed the company's name and usually a picture of a pool table. This was an effective means of advertising the BBC name as well as the local establishment. BBC also sold custom tokens without mention of their company name at a higher price, but these are not distinguishable from those of other manufacturers.
The best reference I've located for BBC tokens is Part 2 of the June 1977 edition of the TAMS Journal, the official organ of the Token and Medal Society. The booklet is titled The Brunswick Token Story and was authored by William E. Fowler, Richard F. Magnuson, and Paul F. White. It includes a good history of the company and a listing of all tokens known to the authors at the time of publication. The I.N. Neher name is not listed in the catalog section, but its reverse die is known as BBC7. If you are familiar with a more recent listing of these issues, please let me know.
It was exciting to find a BBC token in the wild. I knew that it had a great chance of being a South Dakota or Dakota Territory piece. Considering were it showed up, it could have just as easily be a Nebraska, Iowa, or Minnesota token. I figured that it, like most maverick tokens, would be difficult to place and figured it unlikely. Once home, I fired up the computer and searched for I.N. Neher. I weeded though the Google.com returns and found one page on SDGenweb that mentioned an I.N. Neher who operated a ferry on the Big Sioux River as early as 1881. This was very likely my man. The Big Sioux River runs southward along the eastern edge of South Dakota, a few miles from the Minnesota border. It runs through the city of Sioux Falls then dribbles eastward and forms most of South Dakota's border with Iowa. The most likely locale for this token was Sioux Falls in Minnehaha County, SD, but it could have been from Sioux City, Iowa almost as easily. A trip was made to the South Dakota State Library (luckily minutes from my home) and the history books there indicated that the location of I.N. Neher's ferry was on the Big Sioux at Dell Rapids.
A further internet search was made for
pages that contained both Neher and Dell Rapids. I discovered enough information
to conclude that the token issuer’s full name was most likely Isaac N. Neher.
Assistance from the Dell Rapids museum uncovered that this gentleman had
operated the Western House Hotel during the town's early years. It burned to the
ground in the 1890s. It was very common for hotels of this period to include a
bar and pool room. It is probable that this token was issued in the course of
doing business at the Western House.
Further research tells us that Neher was born in 1839, in either Indiana or Wisconsin. His family was probably from an immigrant group known as "Germans from Russia". He served during the Civil War for six months as a private with the Wisconsin volunteer infantry. His wife was Carrie Bevier and they had several children. His death occurred on March 15, 1902 in Dell Rapids as a result of kidney complications.
There has been considerable debate about the age of this type of BBC token, and whether it could date from the territorial era. He was certainly an old enough man in 1889 to have an established business requiring tokens. I am continuing the search for a source that would establish the exact date the Western House was opened for business. In any event, it is at least a very early SD token.
In the Miedema SD token book, on page 27 of the maverick section, is listed a similar token with the name J. N. Neher attributed to Dell Rapids. I have seen a similar piece pictured in the Token and Medal Society maverick index. I have not been able to confirm it as being from Dell Rapids and have a strong suspicion that it is from Wisconsin, issued by a relative of Issac N. Neher. The possibility also exists that there was an error on this token, the I being replaced with a J.
This page has been posted to share my excitement about this token, provide some education, and to solicit information about Isaac N. Neher and his businesses. Particularly desired is information that would date this token to a more defined period. Most desirable would be proof that the token was issued before November 1889, when South Dakota was still part of Dakota Territory. Please email any such information to neher-at-byronreed.com.