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Flying A Studio $1 Dollar token

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Kappen records several denominations and versions of American Film Company or Flying A tokens, but not a $1 token or any others with symbolism quite like that on my recent acquistion. The American Film Company was in business from 1910 to 1923, most of those years located in Santa Barbara, California. The white metal token is silver dollar size, plain edge, and dates to the period ca. 1915-1917.




I believe the reverse is based on Buddhist symbolism beginning with the basic wheel shape or Dharma-wheel. The inner wheel is a lotus design. The Asian Phoenix hovers over the image. The Phoenix was sent to earth to perform extraordinary deeds and to help with the development of man. A man or priest approaches a bridge following a path lined with banners. He carries something, perhaps a samurai sword or a Khatvanga, a magic wand or ceremonial rod. Another sword or ceremonial wand is shown behind the banners to the right, and a Mala or string of prayer beads shown behind him. I suspect the abstracts in the tips of the lotus petals are Chinese or Japanese (maybe Tibetan?) characters, but I have not yet been able to match them up with known characters.


I have a lot more to do to fully interpret the symbols on this token, but the journey has just begun. I believe all Flying A tokens are scarce to rare and I suspect this piece falls into the rare category. Why the Eastern symbolism when most Flying A films were Westerns? It must have been issued in relation to a particular film that I have not yet been able to identify. The closest I can get so far is the Little Chrysanthemum released in 1915. It is a film about a young Japanese girl growing up in the States and later committing suicide when she thought a man was in love with her when he was not.

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Very interesting piece Bill. I've seen the "Flying A" before but I don't recall it being on tokens. Did they issue some sort of script?

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I'm not familiar with any Flying A script, but I'm looking. Yes, I'm also familiar with the UCSB website. Before moving to UC Santa Cruz, I spent 21 years at UC Santa Barbara. I started and curated the Santa Barbara token collection for the Santa Barbara Coin Club in the 1980s. It was not until the past few weeks that I managed to actually acquire a Flying A token. I know the studio site well (many of the buildings on the old lot still exist) and the street near the Mission with the mansions built for the actors. It is an important, although little known component of Santa Barbara history.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Update on my research. The Winged or Flying A pieces are cataloged as movie money under Hollywood in Kappen's California catalog. The winged or flying A obverse is also known as an "Anillo" restrike which means the dies were the property of LA Rubber Stamp. The other Flying-A piece has a shield and Fort Tejon reverse. Fort Tejon would be fully consistent with the Western theme of most of their movies. It was suggested that my piece is related to Grauman's Chinese Theater. My problem with that theory is that the Chinese Theater opened 5 years after Flying A closed.

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