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A few years ago, I was looking at a copy of a newly published book, Communion Tokens of the United States of America. As I came to the section on Pennsylvania tokens, I was surprised to learn that one church in my hometown, the United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum, had used communion tokens. After nearly five years of searching, I was finally able to locate a Tarentum token.

As I searched for the token, I was asked a variety of questions, like, "What are communion tokens?" "When were communion tokens made and how were they used?" "What were these tokens made out of and in what shapes and sizes?" and finally "What does one have to pay to purchase a communion token?" Let me try to answer these questions before providing information on the communion tokens of the United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum.


John Calvin first recommended Communion tokens with the intent that no unworthy person would be admitted to the communion service. They were first use in the Reformed Church of France in the year 1560. The Dutch used tokens in Amsterdam as early as 1586. England and Ireland began to use communion tokens near the end of the 16th century when authorities found it useful to know who did or did not conform to the legal for of worship of the state church.

But it was in the Presbyterian Churches of Scotland that communion tokens were most widely used. Many believe that there may have been a second reason for using tokens, and that was to protect communicants from betrayal by spies during periods of religious persecution. Communion tokens were used in the Presbyterian Churches of Scotland until World War I. A number of other churches have issued tokens in recent years, but these are normally replicas to commemorate a centennial or some other anniversary.

Communion tokens have been used in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Italy, Africa, India, South America, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Churches in at least 24 states in the United States issued communion tokens, with over 400 recorded varieties in Pennsylvania. Tokens were used by churches in Freeport, Deer Creek, Glade Run, and Parnassus, plus six different churches in Pittsburgh and three in Allegheny City. But it was in Scotland where the tokens had their deepest roots with over 7000 different types being recorded.


Practically all of the earliest communion tokens were made of lead or pewter, while more modern examples exist in aluminum, tin, brass, zinc, copper, wood, and ivory. The earliest tokens were crude, blank pieces of metal with no information stamped on either side. These early tokens were followed by tokens with one or two stamped letters, which helped to identify the church. The initials could be for the name of the town, the church, or the minister. A second type has only a date, which could indicate the founding of the church, the installation of the minister, or the year the token was first used. A third type shows only a bible verse, the two most common verses are "This Do In Remembrance of Me" and "Let A Man Examine Himself". Over 90 different bible verses have appeared on communion tokens. Some tokens use all three designs or combinations of the three.

Communion tokens have been made in many shapes- -round, square, oblong, oval, heart shaped etc. They also vary greatly in size and thickness, the smallest being the size of a dime, while others are as large as a silver dollar.

A local metal smith under the supervision of a committee or the church elders normally produced the earliest tokens. The tokens were the property of the minister and were retained by him when he moved to a new church, where they were used with no regard for the design or legend.

Later tokens of the 18th century were often made by a commercial diesinker with very elaborate and attractive designs. These tokens often portray a picture of the communion table, a burning bush, the arms of the city, or a view of the church. On some tokens the full name of the church, town, or minister may be included. The diesinkers also prepared "stock" tokens, which showed no local designation and were used by congregations that were unable to purchase their own dies.

The earliest communion tokens were considered to be holy objects. When a church found it necessary to secure new tokens the elders had the responsibility to melt, bury, or in some way destroy the old tokens. In later years, congregations were less concerned with the holiness of the tokens and many tokens were retained by individual members as souvenirs.

During the 1800ís, many churches switched from using metal tokens to cards, which could be produced at a much lower cost. In addition to lowering the cost, these cards could also include much more information. Many of them had several verses from the Bible, the name and location of the church, the date, and the name of the person who received the card.


The Presbyterian Church is organized with a form of government similar to that of the earliest Christian churches. Each congregation selects its own minister who is an ordained clergyman. The minister elects, from the members of his church, several "elders" who must be ordained before taking office. The minister and elders form the "Session" which makes all decisions for the congregation. In earlier times the communion service was held only once or twice a year, proceeded by several days of preparation. All communicants had to attend classes prior to the communion service. A communion token was given to each member if the session felt that the person was worthy to receive communion. All new members or visitors had to pass an oral exam that was based on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed and the Short Catechism.

On the day of the communion service, tables were placed in the front of the church. The bread and wine were placed on the tables and communicants would take their place at one of the tables according to the "table number" stamped on their token. Some churches had tokens with numbers 1 to 7, indicating that up to 7 tables were used. Anywhere from 12 to 40 members were assigned to a single table.

Many churches other than the Presbyterian Church used communion tokens, including the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Free Church, Reformed Presbyterian, and the Relief Church. In most of these churches, communion tokens were used as tickets to gain admission to the communion service. But unlike the Presbyterian church, the tokens of the other churches were not retained by the minister when he moved to another location.


The most complete reference book on communion tokens is by 0. D. Creswell listing over 6500 tokens. The communion token book by Autence A. Bason is an excellent reference on all U. S. tokens. Unfortunately, neither of these books have any information on token prices and very little information on the number of tokens that were originally minted, or even more important, on how many of these tokens still exist.

Most Scottish tokens can be purchased for $5 to $20. Tokens from England, Ireland, Canada, and New Zealand usually cost in excess of $25, while United States tokens are valued at more than $100.

Unfortunately, many early tokens no longer exist since they were deliberately destroyed. There are many other tokens where only 1 to 10 specimens are now known to exist. In spite of this scarcity, some rare tokens still show up at flea markets or in estate sales.


Before 1830, the Presbyterians living in Tarentum attended either the Bull Creek Presbyterian or the Puckety Presbyterian churches. In 1835, the families that attended the Puckety church decided to form their own congregation. The entire block from Dickey Street to Lock Street in Tarentum was purchased for $60 and a brick structure, fifty feet square, was erected in 1838. By an act of the Senate and House of Representatives the congregation was incorporated on April 16, 1838 as "The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Tarentum". In June of 1838, the Associate Reformed and the Puckety churches secured the pastoral services of Rev. Jonathan C. Fulton. Rev. Fulton was reputed to be an outstanding orator and was influential in the growth of the new congregation. In August 1839, Rev. Fulton left the Associate Reformed Church to accept a call from Blairsville. In 1840, the connection between the Puckety congregation and the Reformed Church of Tarentum was dissolved by an act of the Presbytery. For three years the Tarentum church labored without a minister, until September 1842 when Rev. John Gilmore became pastor of both the Associated Reformed and the Harmarville Presbyterian churches. The Harmarville branch had a very small congregation and was depended on its neighbors for a place to worship

In 1845, the original brick structure in Tarentum was declared to be unsafe and torn down to be quickly replaced by a larger building. Rev. Gilmore continue as pastor of the Tarentum church until December, 1856 and then four years lapsed before the church obtained the services of a new minister.

The Associated Presbyterian Churches and the Reformed Presbyterian Churches in America united in 1858 to form the United Presbyterian Church of North America. The Associate Reformed Church of Tarentum then changed its name to the Tarentum United Presbyterian Church. Rev. Joseph H. Timmons served as pastor of the United Presbyterian Church from June 1860 until November 1883. Barely four years after the end of the Civil War, the second house of worship became too small to accommodate the congregation. In 1869, the structure that now stands on East Eighth Avenue and Dickey Street was erected at a cost of $12,297.64. Shortly after the departure of Rev. Timmons in 1883 dissension in the congregation led to the withdrawal of half the membership. The departing members founded the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Tarentum, which was chartered and renamed in 1917 as the Ninth Avenue United Presbyterian Church.


Rev. David R. McDonald served as pastor the United Presbyterian Church from 1885 to 1890 and was then replaced by Rev. Samuel Black who served as pastor until 1893. On January 4, 1891 fire destroyed a great deal of the interior of the church along with most of the early church records. The congregation quickly repaired the interior and services were resumed.

The next seven ministers to serve the United Presbyterian Church were:

T. Cairns Anderson 5-31-1894 to 10-29-1905

James A. Crosby 5-08-1906 to 10-18-1916
William J. Dickey 2-02-1917 to 11-21-1934
Clyde H. Canfield 6-01-1935 to 5-15-1938
Cuyler N. Ferguson 6-10-1938 to 11-04-1945

Warren E. Murphey 3-07-1946 to 10-31-1948

J. Hoy McElhinney 4-17-1945 to 12-31-1964

In 1938, the name of the United Presbyterian Church was changed to the Hillside United Presbyterian Church. In 1958, the United Presbyterian Churches and the Presbyterian Churches of the U.S.A. merged to form the United Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. In 1965, the Hillside church reunited with the Ninth Avenue Presbyterian Church to become Highview United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum. Rev. Robert E. Boone served as the final pastor from December 7, 1965 until the church was closed in 1990. On June 4, 1990 the Highview congregation united with the members of the First Presbyterian Church of Tarentum to become the First United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum. The building erected in 1869 is no longer used for services.

As to the use of communion tokens, I have been unsuccessful in finding any concrete information as to when the United Presbyterian Church first started to use communion tokens, how many tokens were made, or when this custom was discontinued. All records concerning the use of communion tokens were probably destroyed in the fire of 1891.

Even though there are no written records, I am convinced that the church first used communion tokens during the period from 1860 to 1883 when Rev. Timmons was pastor. Before 1858, the church was known as the Associate Reformed Church and since the tokens have the inscription U P (for United Presbyterian) they had to have been made at a later date. The church was without a pastor from 1858 until 1860 when Rev. Timmons arrived. In most Presbyterian churches it was the minister, and not the congregation, who initiated the practice of using communion tokens, which makes me believe that the tokens were not made before 1860. The church probably stopped using the tokens by 1883 following the example of most of the other Presbyterian churches in Pennsylvania. There is a possibility that the decision to quit using communion tokens may have been one of the factors that caused half of the members to split from the United congregation to begin the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Tarentum. The Reform Church started to use communion cards a short time later. Unfortunately, none of this data provides any clue as to the number of tokens made by the United Presbyterian Church. Searching for a United Presbyterian communion token and finding information on the church has been both a challenge and a great deal of fun.

Please contact the Historical Society if you have any additional information on the Tarentum communion tokens or if you have in your possession either a U. P. token or a Reformed Presbyterian communion card. The Historical Society is also trying to collect information on the communion tokens of the Freeport Associate Church and the Parnassus Reform Presbyterian Church.


"Communion Tokens of the United States of America" by Autence A. Bason, Greensboro, NC

"Comprehensive Directory of World Communion Tokens" by 0.D. Creswell Nadin-Davis Numismatics, 1985

Article submitted by Charles "Skip" Culleiton.

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