1 page | SMC 2242
This rare 50 cent token bearing the imprint of the Civil War sutler Henry Rice is the largest denomination of a set of four - at 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents respectively - circulated among the soldiers of M'Clernande's Brigade Illinois Volunteers in, at least, the first years of the war. It being, at 50 cents, the very top of the line, it would seem to deserve the full monty; herewith, then, is the excellent story of Henry Rice - Jewish immigrant, friend of Lincoln, and philanthropist.
Henry Rice was born in 1834, in Bamberg, Bavaria; had, there, an elementary education; and immigrated, in 1850, at age 15, to the United States. In New York City he did clerical work, until heading west, to Jacksonville, Illinois, in 1853. There he established Henry Rice & Co., a clothing business. He prospered, and in 1861, was appointed military storekeeper – a sutler – for the U.S. Army in Cairo, Illinois.
From his time in Jacksonville, Rice knew Abraham Lincoln well, and had occasion to recommend him as a lawyer. He offered to make Lincoln’s inauguration suit, and later, in the course of seeking an expanded franchise for military store-keeping, dined with him at the White House. Korn credits him - along with Abraham Jonas and Julius Hammerslough - with helping Lincoln realize that Jews, despite the widespread prejudice against them, were no different from other human beings.
In 1861, Rice, along with fellow co-religionists William Stix and Benjamin Eiseman, started a retail business, the Rice, Stix and Company in Memphis, Tennessee. They soon discontinued merchandising, however, and focused on jobbing dry goods products of all kinds. In 1865, Henry’s brother Jonathan became a member of the firm; in 1872, Benjamin Eiseman’s brother David came in; and in 1878 Elias Michael – who began as a stock boy – also became a partner. Some forty people worked for the firm.
The yellow fever epidemic of 1878, however, spurred the company to move upriver to St. Louis the following year. They opened a store in a small building at 410 North Broadway and soon enough, expanded along that thoroughfare. Reorganized as the Rice-Stix Dry Goods Company, the business grew rapidly. In addition to jobbing, Rice-Stix began to manufacture men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, underwear and outerwear, as well as luggage and other accessory items. In 1889 it moved to a newly completed structure, later known as the Merchandise Mart, and by 1907, Rice-Stix occupied the entire building on the block of 10th, 11th, St. Charles, and Washington. In 1913 an annex was added a block south and in 1920 additional space was constructed. Rice-Stix had the largest space of any downtown St. Louis firm, plus warehouses and factories in outlying areas. By the early 1900s, it employed over 3000 people.
Henry Rice handled the firm’s Eastern operations. He lived in New York City from 1866 on, having married a New Yorker, Rachel Herman, in 1863. Their long marriage yielding three grown daughters and two sons was, by all accounts, a happy one. Their 50th anniversary was celebrated with some pomp. The banker Isaac Seligman wrote on that occasion,
“There are but few men in our Jewish community whose private life is more beautiful, or whose continuous and self-sacrificing public service has been more worthy and useful than Mr. Rice.”
Rice was passionately involved in various New York- based Jewish charities, chief among them, the United Hebrew Charities, which he founded in 1874 and served as President, from 1875 to 1908. He was likewise an active Director and or Trustee of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, the Hebrew Technical Institute and, most especially, the Hebrew Orphans Asylum, whose Vice-President he was for 43 years, uninterruptedly. He was unusually involved, it was noted at his passing, “with the dependent and the suffering.”
Rice was also a member of Temple Beth-El on 5th Avenue in New York City.
Rice lived – or at least died – in West End, New Jersey. He was recalled, in a glowing obituary notice in the New York Times, in the most venerable terms:
“Some men are liberal in their philanthropies, others wise in their ideas; some are kind in deed, others active in public service. All these qualities were combined in the life of Henry Rice.”
Rice was 5’7, grey-eyed and mostly, grey-haired; he wore a full beard.
Illinois Volunteers Civil War Sutler token. H. Rice, M'Clernards Brigade, 50 cents in goods. Brass. 11mm. Struck by John Stanton, Cincinnati. Very rare. Curto 234. Schenkman T50B. R7.