Little red tokens found at San Bernardino County Museum put food on the table during WWII – San Bernardino Sun

The roll of dime-sized red disks with the words “OPA 1 Red Point,” first seemed to be nothing more than game pieces from an old board game.

But after a closer look, it became obvious the tokens I found were nearly 75-year-old artifacts of the very difficult times our parents and grandparents endured on the homefront during World War II.

As part of volunteers doing inventory work at the San Bernardino County Museum, I occasionally happen upon exotic or puzzling objects in storage boxes. Recently this roll of tokens – looking like some early-day Pez dispenser – was found at the bottom of a box with no clue to its function.

It turned out these disks were produced by the federal Office of Price Administration which oversaw World War II rationing of consumer goods, from food to gasoline to automobile tires. To conserve resources for the troops fighting across the globe, the OPA asked its citizens to “Do with less — so they’ll have enough,” supporting soldiers on the front lines.

Ultimately, citizens were issued coupon or stamp books so each person purchased only their fair share of goods. The stamps were worth only points that gave citizens the right to buy a specific amount of items – based on the number of points they had – each month.

So how were the 1-point disks involved in all this?

They were first distributed to retailers in February 1944 and were simply used as change from purchases. Customers received them when they purchased less than was available on their stamps. The points could be saved for future purchases, according to the Pomona Progress Bulletin of Jan. 14, 1944.

The red tokens were used when buying meat, while a similar blue token was used in buying processed foods, reported the Associated Press in December 1943.

There were more than 2 billion of these red and blue tokens made of a vulcanized fiber or celluloid. “You can’t easily wear out or destroy a token which is made of the same material that is used as a facing for pile drivers,” bragged the OPA’s H. L. McCann.

They may have been indestructible, but that didn’t mean they weren’t abused.

Some people, finding these things in their pockets or purses, used them as bus tokens or in parking meters or even for gambling. One drawback of using them in slot machines, according to one report, was that the winnings often gave you back more tokens than coins. Another racket was to take the so-called indestructible tokens, splitting them widthwise and passing off each side as separate tokens.

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