Vincent Chicco and His Blind Tiger

The city of Charleston has always played a significant role in the history of the state of South Carolina. From its beginnings in 1670 as a small colonial settlement at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, through its growing importance as a seaport for the fledgling nation, to its part as the incendiary flashpoint in the sectional conflict which became the Civil War, the city has enjoyed a prominence that seemingly lifted it above similar communities in the state. It is no small wonder then, that some of its citizens thought the city to occupy a pedestal raised above its South Carolina neighbors.

It was this feeling of superiority that occasionally led some Charlestonians to consider themselves immune from the laws and social mores governing the rest of the state. And this sentiment, in turn, gave rise to the issuance of this month’s token, which so publicly flaunted Charleston’s opposition to the state dispensary law and the temperance movement behind it.

On its surface, the 29mm aluminum token shown above does not appear to carry any hint of its true nature. The innocuous inscription on the obverse reads GOOD FOR 5¢ IN TRADE AT CHICCO’S CAFE. The pictorial of the blindfolded tiger on the reverse, however, is a blatant advertisement for the “supposedly” clandestine saloon which Vincent Chicco operated in conjunction with his cafe. And, as such, the token speaks volumes on Charleston’s open opposition to the state legislature’s attempts to outlaw saloons and the sale of liquor by the drink in the late 1890s and early 1900s.


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