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Houston Streetcar Tokens...

Probably the easiest to find artifacts of the Houston streetcar system are the fare tokens that were used beginning in the 1920s.  Ironically, only two basic varieties of tokens were ever used on the streetcars, and for the collector, here is a brief summary....

At left in the photo is the type of token first used in 1922.  There are actually several minor die varieties of this token, but all are characterized by the "H" cutout having relatively straight sides.  The reverse is lettered "Good for One Fare Full," and the token is made of white metal, a nickel alloy.  These initially sold at four for 25 cents.  The photo above is magnified for clarity and the actual token is about the size of a dime.

For the sake of comparison, the very similar-appearing token at the right is actually a bus token!  Although the wording is identical, the key difference is the shape of the "H" cutout, having distinctly flared sides.  According to existing records from the private mint that produced them, these were struck beginning in 1941 (after the demise of the streetcars) and produced in large quantities throughout the Second World War.  In addition to white metal, these were also made in brass, zinc and steel in order to conserve scarce nickel for the war effort.

At center is the childrens' half-fare streetcar token.  It is unknown exactly when this first came into use, but evidence suggests that it was the same time as the full-fare token, 1922.

Although the collector can differentiate between the streetcar and bus tokens, keep in mind that as far as the company was concerned, they were all the same.  Tokens minted in 1922 were still in use decades later, and even after the company changed names, the older tokens were still circulated and accepted.  These tokens, especially the full-fare ones, are still relatively common and can be easily found on eBay for a dollar or two.  The half-fare token is slightly scarcer, but still can be had for under five dollars.

...and a Rare Mulecar Ticket

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At the opposite end of the rarity scale is the above ticket, dating from the earliest days of public transit in Houston.  Used during the 1870s or 1880s, this pasteboard ticket was used for passage on Houston's first mule-drawn streetcars. They had the unfortunate tendency to disintegrate when wet -- and it rains a lot in Houston.


The photos on this page are copyright (c) 2003, Steven M. Baron and may not be reproduced without permission.  Thanks.