Scott Rifenburgh holds Wells Fargo history museum token
Rifenburgh with token at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Charlotte.

Collectible tokens create museum memories

October 6, 2016

Visitors of Wells Fargo history museums have a new way to remember their experiences and learn about U.S. history: collectible tokens.

Produced by the Hoffman Mint in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the coin-shaped faux gold tokens — one for every museum, including the Des Moines museum that opens in November this year — feature a symbol unique to each museum.

The tokens are being released in pairs: The San Francisco and Sacramento tokens were introduced in September, to be followed by Charlotte and Philadelphia in October, Anchorage and Minneapolis in November, Los Angeles and San Diego in December, Portland and Phoenix in January 2017, and Des Moines in February 2017. Visitors receive a token upon arriving at each museum.

Holder for Wells Fargo History museum tokens
A holder to collect and display the tokens is based on one Wells Fargo created and used with some customers in 1963.

“The tokens certainly have added to visitors’ experience,” says Martha Blakney, a curator of the Wells Fargo History Museum in the Old Sacramento State Historic Park in California. “Visitors are surprised to learn we have so many museums and where they are located.”

Michael Shanahan, who manages Wells Fargo’s two museum locations in Sacramento, says, “The tokens grew out of some brainstorming we did a few years ago about how to further enhance the experience for museum visitors. We gave away commemorative tokens for the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express at all our museums in 2010 and 2011, and the bank gave away tokens for the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge in May 2013. All of these were very popular. Based on the response, we thought this new token set would be a great way to take the same concept nationally.”

Wells Fargo’s history museums trace their roots to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, when the company first displayed a stagecoach and other artifacts from its California Gold Rush years. The first of the 11 current museums opened in San Francisco in 1927.

Token design

Wells Fargo history museum tokens
Each token has a stagecoach on one side and an image chosen just for that museum on the other.

Staff members at each museum picked a symbol for their token based on local collections and communities. For example, the Charlotte team chose a crown because Charlotte is known as the Queen City, and the Portland team chose a beaver because Oregon is the Beaver State.

The task of translating each museum’s selection to coinage fell on Wells Fargo’s In-House Agency Art Director Scott Rifenburgh, who says the project represented a personal first. “I had never done coin design,” he says. “So working from photographs or illustrations the museums provided, I created line illustrations for the minting of the tokens — also figuring out what level of detail was best because the finished product is small. It’s pretty cool to see the final result and hold them in hand.”

To help visitors collect and display the tokens, Shanahan says Historical Services also created a holder for them. The design is based on an actual “coin saver” that Wells Fargo produced in 1963 to help children learn budgeting skills. School groups continue to make regular field trips to the museums and are among the record 700,000 total visitors in 2015.

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