Thursday, September 29, 2011

Featured Find: Can you solve the mystery of Foster’s Cafe?

Hey everyone!  Today’s featured find comes from the Webb Farm on Saxapahaw Bethlehem Church Rd. (now Victory Calls Stables), and it’s a mystery that has nagged me since I started detecting here.  It’s a small copper coin-like token, about the size of a nickel.  The back is plain, and the front read’s “Foster’s Cafe" around a letter “F” punchout.  I’ve searched, but haven’t found any reference to this token online.
Now had I just found the one token, I would probably write it off as a neat unknown find, and not give it too much more thought.  But then I found more.  Lots more.  Nearly thirty of them, all from the same farm field but spread out over several acres.  To be fair, most were found within maybe a half acre, but that’s still a sizable area.
What could they be?  It has been suggested that they were produced for the modern Foster’s Market Cafe in Chapel Hill, but I think if this were the case I would likely have found some reference to them online.  The best lead I have to go on came from the Alamance County Register of Deeds.

When the last of the Webb family, Capt. Sam Webb, died in 1929, the farm was left to his adopted son William Talbert.  William sold the property that same year to Richard Freeman Isley and his wife Vivian Foster Isley.  The land was sold in 1934 to Vivian's father, Charles Foster, owner of Foster's Hosiery Mill.  The land remained in his possession until 1947.  Could this be the “Foster” connection in “Foster’s Cafe"?
There were several periods of US history during which trade tokens saw increased usage.  These included “hard times” tokens issued during silver hoarding in the 1830’s, as well as patriotic small change tokens issued during the Civil War.  The heyday of token use in the US came from the 1870’s to early 1930’s, when a surge of small businesses in rural areas created a demand for advertising and merchandise trade tokens.  The decline of these tokens began with the Great Depression through the 1940's and 50's.  Below is an excellent example of a trade token from the Melville Drug Co. in Mebane dating to the 1920's, recovered by my friend Brad.
So it is possible that the Foster’s who owned this land from 1929-1947 were the connection to these mysterious Foster’s Cafe tokens?  Without some further evidence of either the restaurant or the tokens themselves, their origin and age will remain as mysterious as how so many became scattered across a rural Alamance County field.  But perhaps some of my readers may be able to assist – if you have any information about Foster’s Cafe of Alamance County, NC please let me know in the comments, on our facebook group, or by email.  I am in contact with a token researcher, and will keep you posted on what we find out!

Thanks for reading, and God bless!


  1. You should try to talk to Silas Talbert, who lives on the other side of the pond now up the gated driveway. William Talbert was his father and Silas' mother Grace Talbert actually taught at the Bingham School. She was my Great Grandmother. Silas re-acquired the farm you speak of back in the 80's I believe, and I am told that someone who used to own it ran a small amusement park there with a train ride that went around the pond and there is a little concessions/ticket building that still stands at the corner of the pond nearest the road. Wish I knew more, but that's all I ever recall hearing about it...

  2. Interesting that you found so many of them. Maybe the tokens were reused for rides in the train in the amusement park or maybe it was a promotion of some kind.

  3. Thanks for the input!

    Ron, you may be on to something with the amusement park, I had heard that story as well. I need to track down a timeframe of when the train ride was in use, but I haven't found any reference to it in writing. I need to ask a Quakenbush, I think, as Ed Quakenbush owned it in the 50's.

    The part of the farm I found them in is back between the two barns, to the west of the largest Oak. So not really all that close to the pond. But then, maybe that's where the food was? Who knows.

    I am also following up on another lead thanks to Richard at, and I'll post an update on that in a few days if I can clean up enough loose ends for a coherent post.

  4. That's crazy that you found so many of these. I hope you figure it out!

  5. Nice blog. I live in downtown graham and just got a decent metal detector. So far all ive found is some newer quarters/pennys and some old car parts. Wish I could find more nice places to detect