6-3-11: A Token for a Buck
Summer is here, bringing with it sunshine and humidity–but also lots of fresh summer fruits. Here in Maryland, we wanted to examine the way people who used to pick and can strawberries, tomatoes, and potatoes used to be paid. This was called piecework, and instead of receiving cash right away, for every bushel or pound or bucket workers picked or canned, they would receive a ticket or a token, and trade them in for actual money at the end of the week.
The tickets generally went to pickers, who worked out in the fields, and tokens went to the people in the packing houses, where the conditions were much damper. The tokens and tickets were sometimes used as a form of currency in stores in the small towns where they were issued. Tokens and tickets were used on farms and canneries in Maryland through the 1950s.
Sheilah discusses these different forms of agricultural currency with Beth Hansen, Curator of the Historical Society of Talbot County, and with Charles Adams, who lives in Trappe, Maryland, also in Talbot County. His family used to run the Defender Packing Company, which issued tokens for workers who canned tomatoes. He’s also one of the directors of the Rural Life Museum of Trappe, Maryland, which is planning a “Friends and Visitors” day on Saturday, June 18.
You can check out some of these tokens on display at the Historical Society of Talbot County, in Easton, or at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, where there’s “The Strawberry Checkout,” a painting by Alphonso Willums, an African-American painter who worked as a picker in Maryland as a boy. The painting is his memory of turning in the checks at the end of the week.
And speaking of pickers and canners, we would love to hear fro you: did you, or someone in your family, work as a picker or canner on a farm in Maryland? Do you remember being issued tickets or tokens? Tell us about it–and about your experience with Maryland agriculture generally –at 410-881-3162, or send us an email to mdmorning@wypr-dot-org.