I recently received a letter from Rick Fink, Bonduel, Wis., that reads in part:
Your story about the reaper had special interest for me. While helping my 90-year-old grandma put manure on her garden one spring, I found this coin. Would you be able to tell me a little about the coin? Were there a lot of them made that are around yet today, or is it rare with a little value?
Rick included a pencil rubbing of each side of the coin, which allowed a positive identification.
According to legend, Cyrus McCormick built the first successful reaper and demonstrated it in a Virginia wheat field in July 1831.
In 1931, the International Harvester Company celebrated the 100th anniversary of this momentous event with a number of promotions. Old Cyrus' grandson (also named Cyrus) published a book called The Century of the Reaper. Most every piece of paper issued by IHC during that year was adorned with two gold, embossed circles. One circle featured the head of Cyrus Hall McCormick with his name around the top edge, the words "Inventor of the Reaper" over his left shoulder, and the dates he lived (1809-1884) over the right shoulder. The other circle exhibited an image of the first reaper behind a boy on a single horse, along with a man walking alongside to rake the gavels of grain from the machine's platform. "International Harvester Company" was imprinted around the top edge of the circle, while beneath the image were the words "Centennial of the Reaper 1831 1931" bracketed between two upright sheaves of wheat.
The gold circles described above were actually images of the two sides of a brass coin, or medallion, that IHC commissioned to be struck by the Medallic Art Co. of New York. The medallion is about 1.3 inches in diameter, and was issued to International Harvester dealers by the thousand to be handed out to customers and prospects. Watch fobs and bracelet charms were made as well, and may be somewhat more rare than the coins. Larger versions of the two images were often mounted side-by-side on a walnut plaque, hung in IH dealers' showrooms.
Obviously, since so many of the medallions were distributed, they are very common and, as a result, aren't very valuable. At the IHC Collectors' Club Auction in Cookeville, Tenn., last fall, one of these coins sold for $15. A recent example on the internet auction service, eBay, went for $8. A California dealer in IHC memorabilia claims to have a number of the McCormick centennial coin medallions still in the original shipping box that have never been circulated. He will send you one of these which he refers to as the "Centennial Coin," for $14.95 plus $3.50 shipping and handling.
My advice would be to just keep the coin as a memento of your grandmother's garden, although a died-in-the-wool IH collector might give you $10 or $15 for the thing. FC