CWTS Article of the Month!

February 2011

"Gustavus Lindenmueller: The Myth, The Man, The Mystery"

by Donald Erlenkotter - LM 179

  Gustavus Lindenmueller of New York City is a legendary figure to collectors of Civil War tokens. Standard works on these tokens invariably draw attention to him in their introductory comments. For example, Hetrich and Guttag in their classic 1924 catalog describe how New York City began issuing such tokens:

In the Spring of 1863 New York followed [Cincinnati’s] example. The first [token] to be made in New York was the Lindenmueller currency, of which a million pieces were struck. . . . These little coins filled the wants of the trades-people, and were accepted as a means of exchange for the value, which usually was one cent. They undoubtedly were a source of great relief and convenience, but their irresponsible character soon attracted the attention of the Federal authorities. It is said that the Third Avenue Railroad of New York requested Lindenmueller to redeem a large number of his tokens, which they had accepted in the course of business, but this he laughingly refused to do. The railroad had no redress, and it is not improbable that incidents of this character forced the Government to put a stop to their issue. This was done by the passage of an act of Congress in 1864, forbidding private individuals to issue any form of money.1

  Later references repeat essentially the same story.2 An earlier version, dating back to 1901, reported that Lindenmueller issued tokens to the value of $10,000, which, of course, corresponds to a total of 1,000,000 pieces if we assume a nominal value of one cent each.3 Five years before, yet another source put a somewhat different spin on the story, claiming that the Third Avenue Railroad Company bought 300,000 of the Lindenmueller tokens, which were said to have been "as good as gold"!4 And the Lindenmueller story can be dated back at least another ten years to 1886 when C. E. Leal, editor of The American Numismatist, wrote:

. . . it was not until the early part of 1863 that New York began to issue the famous Lindenmueller cents, of which there were more than a million coined; these were followed by the Knickerbocker tokens, consisting of many varieties.5

From this we see that the story about Lindenmueller and his tokens has three main components:

(1)    Lindenmueller was the first in New York City to issue Civil War tokens, the NY 630AQ varieties, in early 1863.
(2)    Lindenmueller issued (at least) one million tokens.
(3)    Lindenmueller’s refusal to redeem his tokens played a major role in the government's decision to ban such tokens.

  Interestingly, none of the references offers any source for the story about Lindenmueller, leaving open the question about the origins of this information. In the absence of sources, much of the Lindenmueller story should be considered as a myth, or what is popularly called today an "urban legend." An urban legend has the following characteristics:

It is widely known.
There may be variants to the story.
No one seems to know how, or where, the story originated.

All of these apply to Lindenmueller’s story.

Gustavus Lindenmueller: The Man

  In an attempt to track down the Lindenmueller story, we have drawn together available information about his life. Although this information is fragmentary, there is enough to document his activities extensively over the fifteen year period from 1851 to 1865. The story turns out to be quite interesting.

  Gustave Müller, or Lindenmüller, may have been involved in the revolutionary movements in Germany in the late 1840s, as one Lindenmueller of New York City was granted an amnesty by the King of Prussia in 1861.6He was established as a seller of lager beer in New York City by early 1851. In that year he was sued for nonpayment by his beer supplier, Adolph Schalk, who had supplied Lindenmüller with beer from 23 March 1851 on.7 In February 1852 Mr. Lindenmuller was a member of a committee that went to Albany regarding the murder conviction of one Otto Grunzig.8 Then, in 1854, Lindenmueller was the subject of several letters to the editor in the New York Daily Times.9 He had a saloon at 118 Chatham Street in New York City, said to have been converted from a bowling alley, and was providing free dinners to hundreds of the poor on a daily basis. The letters, from anonymous sources, were soliciting donations to supplement the support being given for the program by the city’s German population.

  According to the 1856 New York City Directory, Lindenmueller was at the Chatham Street address through 1855, moving the following year to 15 William Street where he again had a saloon.10 During the late 1850s and early 1860s he ran daily advertisements for his establishments in the local German-language newspaper, the New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung. Eventually he became known as the "Lager Bier King."11

  In 1858 Lindenmueller had a concert hall at 210 William Street. About this time he began to have difficulties with the municipal authorities over the Sunday liquor laws, which prohibited the serving of alcoholic beverages on Sundays. These laws were resented by the German community, who were accustomed to spending their only day off socializing at local beer gardens. But other citizens demanded "proper" observation of the Sabbath.12 Previously, enforcement of the laws had been lax, but a new municipal police force was now actively pursuing offenders.13 On 8 August 1858 Lindenmueller was arrested for violating the Sunday laws, and five to eight hundred customers were "cleaned" out of his "disorderly" establishment, which was called by the New York Times "a notorious gambling and dance-house."14

  Evidently he moved later in the year to 49 Bowery, where he was the proprietor of the Odeon Theater, a lager-bier, concert, and theatrical saloon. On 18 December 1858 his theater building was destroyed by a fire that also consumed two neighboring buildings.15 The cause of the fire was an illuminated artificial Christmas tree in the main theatrical room. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

  In the following year Lindenmueller opened another saloon at 175 Bowery. The struggle against the Sunday laws was then being framed as one against the establishment of particular religions, which violated the U. S. Constitution.16 In early 1860 the New York State Legislature passed a new law that banned all public theatrical performances on Sundays in the City and County of New York.17 Lindenmueller had now moved his saloon and theatrical establishment, the Odeon, to 199-201 Bowery. It was to remain at this location for the next four years, with an expansion by 1862 to 199-205 Bowery.

  The reaction of the German community to the new law was strong. At a mass meeting of the German lager-bier saloon keepers, Lindenmueller proposed a tax on the saloons to raise a fund for testing the constitutionality of the new law.18 On 25 April 1860 he and several others were arrested for having violated the Sunday law by giving dramatic exhibitions and selling liquors.19 He had published a programme in the German newspapers stating that he had founded a new free German church, called the "Shaker congregation," and announcing that:

  Ten cents was to be paid for admission into the temple, but admission to the garden, "under the eye of God and the free sky," was free.20

  The New York Times was not sympathetic, especially since Lindenmueller openly proclaimed that he was an atheist. They called him "one of the least scrupulous and most shameless" of those trying to evade the new Sunday law, and concluded by claiming that:

Nearly a thousand half-drunk Germans listened to and applauded these Atheistic ravings in a Sunday Theatre, in the interval of comedies performed in open, avowed defiance of a law of the State, passed within a fortnight!

  The paper continued the debate over the constitutionality of the new law.21 It predicted that Lindenmueller would be stopped only by an injunction.22 The injunction came in October 1860, obtained by the managers of the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents and prohibiting Lindenmueller from giving any more performances in his saloon.23 Meanwhile, his trial proceeded, and on 20 November 1860 he was found guilty.24 The New York Times remarked on "the characteristic obstinacy of the Teutonic race" and concluded that:

Until the recent conviction of Lindenmuller for violation of the Sunday laws shall be confirmed, no German will probably ever yield to the law without resisting to the last.

  Lindenmueller then appealed to the New York Supreme Court in the case Gustav Lindenmüller vs. The People. In May 1861 he lost his appeal, and this case became a landmark in establishing the legality of legislation that restricted Sunday activities.25 Subsequently, in a surprising reversal in 1866, the New York Times came out for a relaxation of the Sunday laws which would permit operation of German beer gardens. The motivation for this was to attract a voting block to the support of the Republican Party in New York City.26 But Sunday liquor sales restrictions remained the law in the State of New York until 2003, when the prohibition was relaxed to permit establishments to choose one day per week when liquor would not be sold. This partial restriction was universally unpopular, and in August 2004 every-day liquor sales were legalized.

  The year 1860 provides our main information about Gustavus Lindenmueller’s family. According to the census taken in that year, Gustavus, born in Prussia, was 40 years old. His wife Eliza, age 20 years, was a native of Holland, and they had two sons, both born in New York: Gustave, age 6, and George, age 1.27 Apparently Eliza was Lindenmueller’s second wife, since the engagement of Gustav Lindenmüller and Elise van Spreedwenburg was announced on 25 September 1858.28 They were married before the Odeon Theatre fire of 18 December 1858, when she was called "Mrs. Lindenmuller."29

  In 1861 Lindenmueller was caught up in the Civil War. As a member of Company D, Sixth Regiment New York State Militia, he was called for duty on 19 April 1861 for three months’ service. The regiment served at Annapolis, MD. Initially he was an ordnance sergeant, and he was mustered out at New York City on 31 July 1861 as a sergeant.30 He then was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the 54th Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, and served in Companies F and I from 17 September 1861 to 10 April 1863. From December 1861 through March 1862 he was recorded as absent on recruiting service in New York City, and in April 1862 he was listed as detached to Gen. Blenker’s staff. Subsequently he was listed as absent, absent on recruiting service, or absent without leave. On 18 January 1863 the regimental commander, Lt. Col. Charles Ashby, wrote the Secretary of War, Hon. Edwin Stanton, that Lt. Lindenmueller had been absent from his regiment without leave since 10 June 1862. Finally he was dismissed from the Army on 10 April 1863 with the loss of all pay and allowances.31

  In August 1863 the New York Times mentioned that the Aurora Dramatic Club of the Social Reformers was to hold a "Summernight’s Festival" at Lindenmueller's Odeon.32 After a hiatus at the beginning of 1864, Lindenmueller’s advertisements in the New-YorkerStaats-Zeitung resumed on March 2nd. In an advertisement on 9 April 1864, he announced the closing of the Odeon on the first of May.33 Evidently a rent increase threatened profitability of the operation. He concluded by saying "Ende gut! – Alles gut!" [All is well that ends well]. Gustavus Lindenmueller is not listed in the 1865 New York City Directory. The last listing for him is in the 1866 directory, when he was selling liquors at 465 Eighth Avenue. His death at that location, of consumption at age 46 years, is recorded on 13 May 1865.34 Newspaper death notices indicate that he was survived by his widow Elise and three children, and three days after his death his widow was appointed as the administrator of his estate. She filed a probate petition stating that the value of his property did not exceed $200.35

Gustavus Lindenmueller: The Mystery

  Even with all this information, there still are several mysteries associated with Gustavus Lindenmueller. First, how many Civil War tokens were struck for him? The amount has been reported variously as a million (or more) tokens, or $10,000 in total value. These two figures would correspond if the tokens were valued at a cent each, but this is questionable since they bear no denomination and are larger than the Indian cents issued during this period. As we discuss below, a token value closer to five cents seems more likely. To add to the confusion, one modern source has suggested an alternate production quantity of 350,000 tokens.36 Linked with this mystery is the question of whether Lindenmueller was the first issuer of Civil War tokens in New York City.37 We do know that his tokens were produced before 18 September 1863, since on that date Pliny Chase presented the American Philosophical Society with a collection that included three different Lindenmueller tokens.38

  Another mystery is the story of Lindenmueller’s refusal to redeem his tokens. Benj Fauver has suggested that his refusal, if in fact it did occur, could have been quite reasonable.39 But I believe there may have been additional considerations here. Viewed purely as store cards, these tokens are deficient since they provide no information about the location of the establishment. Moreover, it seems unlikely that Lindenmueller would have needed general advertising of this type since he catered to a narrowly defined market segment: German-Americans in New York City. This audience was best reached directly through his advertisements in local German-language newspapers. Significantly, there is no denomination of value indicated on the tokens, and they are larger than the small cent coins of the time. A plausible conclusion is that the tokens themselves indicate their intended purpose: a token displaying a beer mug on its obverse could be exchanged for one mug of beer, and one with the inscription ODEON was good for one theatrical admission.40 This would imply a "value" of perhaps five cents for the former and ten cents for the latter.41 Since no cash value was designated, the holder would have to redeem the tokens in trade at the establishment. And, if the establishment went out of business, as it did, redemption would no longer be possible.42 In addition to his tokens, Lindenmueller had issued elaborately printed and signed notes in 1862 that could be exchanged for ten cents in meals at his restaurant.43

lindenmueller ten cent meal certificate

Lindenmueller’s Ten Cent Meal Certificate

  Perhaps the final mystery is whether Lindenmueller’s alleged refusal to redeem his tokens actually had any bearing on the passage of the federal laws that banned issuance of tokens intended for use as money. Here it would appear that the laws would have been ineffective with respect to Lindenmueller’s tokens. Two such laws were passed in 1864, with the first becoming effective on 22 April 1864 and the second on 8 June 1864. The first law imposed a fine of up to $1,000 and a prison term of up to five years for anyone passing a token in metal or its compounds that was intended as a monetary substitute for a one cent or a two cent piece.44 The second law was based on a proposal submitted by the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, with a letter that read in part:

In the Atlantic States a large amount of cent tokens have been issued by private parties and are now in circulation. This issue by private parties of coins bearing a close resemblance to the coins of the United States is a reprehensible practice, and is injurious to the public interests. It therefore seems proper that some provision should be made by law to prohibit it.

  The bill provided a penalty of up to $3,000 and imprisonment not exceeding five years for counterfeiting any of the gold or silver or other coins of the country, or for uttering or passing any token or original device resembling the coins of the United States or of any foreign government.45

  It is difficult to see how either law would have made the Lindenmueller tokens illegal. Both by design and physical appearance, these tokens could not have been confused with either one cent or the new two cent coins, and they made no claim to monetary value. Surely the litigious Lt. Lindenmueller would have vigorously challenged any attempt at prosecution over his tokens!

lindenmueller cover art


  I would like to thank Joan Koster-Morales and Prof. Hans Schollhammer for their assistance, and Q. David Bowers and Jeff Shelton for their helpful comments.


1.    George Hetrich and Julius Guttag, Civil War Tokens and Tradesmen's Store Cards, New York City, 1924, p. 5.
2.    George and Melvin Fuld, U.S. Civil War Store Cards, Second Edition, Quarterman Publications, Inc., Lawrence, MA, 1975, p. I; George and Melvin Fuld, Patriotic Civil War Tokens, Fifth Revised Edition, Krause Publications, Iola, WI, 2005, p. 6.
3.    Roland P. Falkner, "The Private Issue of Token Coins," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2 (June 1901), p. 326.
4.    "Every Man His Own Mint: War Days When Coin Bore A Business Stamp," New York Times, 2 November 1896, p. 16, reprinted in the Civil War Token Journal, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring 2004), p. 19. If so many of Lindenmueller’s tokens had been acquired by the Third Avenue Railroad, it is surprising that there seems to be no contemporary report of this.
5.    The American Numismatist, Vol. 1, No. 1 (September 1886).
6.    Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, Milwaukee, WI, 21 February 1861.
7.    Adolph Schalk vs. Gustave Müller, sued as Gustave Lindenmüller, Superior Court of the City of New York, Case No. 2145, 1852. Perhaps Lindenmueller is the "Gustans Muller," laborer, age 26, born in Germany, listed in the 1850 census in Ward 8, New York City [p. 314, family #2605].
8.    New York Daily Times, 27 January 1852, p. 2; 24 February 1852, p. 1.
9.    New York Daily Times, 20 January 1854, p. 3; 23 January 1854, p. 1; 24 January 1854, p. 3.
10.    New York City directories for this period provide information for the directory year ending on May 1, incorporating information gathered as of May 1 in the previous year.
11.    Brooklyn Eagle, 15 October 1860, p. 2.
12.    New York Times, 30 January 1858, p. 2; 3 June 1859, p. 4.
13.    New York Daily Times, 27 July 1857, p. 4.
14.    New York Times, 9 August 1858, p. 8.
15.    New York Times, 20 December 1858, p. 8.
16.    New York Times, 2 July 1859, p. 1; 9 July 1859, p. 5; 11 July 1859, p. 8.
17.    New York Times, 20 January 1860, p. 6; 17 March 1860, p. 4; 21 April 1860, p. 8.
18.    New York Times, 23 April 1860, p. 5.
19.    New York Times, 26 April 1860, p. 8; 30 April 1860, p. 5.
20.    New York Times, 2 May 1860, p. 8.
21.    New York Times, 28 May 1860, p. 4; 4 June 1860, p. 4; 13 June 1860, p. 4.
22.    New York Times, 31 July 1860, p. 4.
23.    New York Times, 20 October 1860, p. 2; 15 November 1860, p. 3.
24.    New York Times, 19 November 1860, pp. 2, 4; 20 November 1860, p. 3; 21 November 1860, p. 2; 24 November 1860, p. 4.
25.    New York Times, 21 February 1861, p. 2; 30 May 1861, p. 5; 4 June 1861, p. 2.
26.    New York Times, 14 November 1866, p. 4.
27.    Augustave Lindenmuller appears in the 1860 census in the 14th Ward of New York City, p. 621, family #1493.
28.    New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung, 25 September 1858, p. 4.
29.    New York Times, 20 December 1858, p. 8.
30.    Military service file for Gustav Lindenmuller, National Archives, Washington, DC.
31.    Ibid.
32.    New York Times, 15 August 1863, p. 2.
33.    New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung, 9 April 1864, p. 6.
34.    Register of Deaths, Department of Health, Borough of Manhattan, City of New York, Liber No. 43, 1865, Death record for Gustav Lindemiler [sic].
35.    New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung, 14 May 1865, p. 8; 15 May 1865, p. 5; Surrogate’s Court, New York County, NY, Liber No. 81, p. 21, Bond Book 110.
36.    Rachootin, Sterling A., Tokens of the Civil War Era, Collector Lecture Series Videotape, Media Resource Corporation, Long Beach, CA, 1992.
37.    Although the J. H. Warner tokens of New York City (NY 630CA) are dated 1862, these are rare and most likely were not widely circulated.
38.    Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. IX, 1865, pp. 249 250.
39.    Benj Fauver, "Why Lindenmueller Laughed," The Copperhead Courier, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring 1979), pp. 14-15.
40.    This distinction is reinforced by the designs of the reverse dies for the tokens, which have Lindenmueller’s head in profile surrounded by thirteen stars. The two types of tokens are readily distinguished by their reverses since those for the ODEON tokens have stars with five points, while those for the beer mug tokens have stars with six points. Evidently all the Lindenmueller tokens were struck by Louis Roloff, who signed the later reverse dies. See George and Melvin Fuld, U.S. Civil War Store Cards, Second Edition, Quarterman Publications, Inc., Lawrence, MA, 1975, pp. 259-260.
41.    According to Brother Basil Leo Lee, Discontent in New York City, 1861-1865, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, DC, 1943, pp. 172, 180, the price of malt liquors in Brooklyn was raised from three to five cents a glass in November 1863. All the leading saloons in New York and Brooklyn raised beer and ale prices to ten cents a glass in July 1864. The fare on the Third Avenue line was five cents in October 1864. Lindenmueller’s advertisement in the New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung for 25 September 1858, p. 5, sets the entry fee for the Odeon at six cents, including a glass of beer; the advertisement for 18 March 1864, p. 6, gives the admission fee as ten cents, with children over six years old admitted for half price and younger children free.
42.    As noted above, Lindenmueller did give three weeks notice of the closing of the Odeon in his newspaper advertisements, so his clients could have redeemed their tokens during this period.
43.    One such note sold for $5,000 plus a 15% buyer’s premium at Stack’s auction of the John J. Ford, Jr., collection in Atlanta on 26 May 2005, lot 4136. Its image is reproduced here by permission of Stack’s.
44.    The Congressional Globe: Containing The Debates and Proceedings of The First Session of The Thirty-Eighth Congress, Vol. 2, 1864, pp. 1207, 1227 1228, 1772, 1802, 1842; Vol. 4, 1864, Appendix, pp. 155-156.
11.    The Congressional Globe: Containing The Debates and Proceedings of The First Session of The Thirty-Eighth Congress, Vol. 3, 1864, pp. 2265, 2741, 2750, 2856, 2879; Vol. 4, 1864, Appendix, p. 176.
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Fall 2014 Gustavus Lindenmueller: The Myth, The Man, The Mystery
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