MATTHEWS, JOHN HENRY

Copyright 2011-2018 John N. Lupia

The Soda Fountain King
John Matthews became a dominant manufacturer of a variety of soda water apparatuses during the last half of the nineteenth century. He is celebrated in a series of store cards and in several medals.

Fig. 1. Portrait of John Matthews on his 50 Year Commemorative Medal of 1882 commissioned by his heirs.

John Henry Matthews (1808-1870), was born on December 19, 1808, at Standford, Dingley, Berkshire, England, the son of John Matthews (-1827), and Elizabeth Robinson Matthews (1786-1846).

On February 8, 1830, he married Elizabeth Chester (1811-1889) at Bristol, England. They had six children : two daughters and four sons.


On March 2, 1832, he moved to New York City, New York.

In 1832, he designed, patented and issued the soda water fountain.

Fig. 2. Matthews Catalogue of 1852  ran also as a full page advertisement as that shown above in the Lupia Numismatic Library. This is very rare. There is one catalogue found dated 1889 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1961. Accession Number: 61.559.3. Other catalogues found in rare book dealer catalogues typically sell for about $1,000. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library. Estimate $100-$200. Write john@numismaticmall.com

In 1863, he issued a store card, obverse : right profile of Amphitrite with a dolphin swimming in the field before her, reverse: advertisement of John Matthews. This store card is usually identified and catalogued as a Civil War token as Fuld NY 630 AU-1a.

In 1865, he retired from the business giving it to his heirs.

He died on January 1, 1870 at New York. 

Fig. 3. Cabinet card photograph of the Matthews Tomb Monument taken circa 1876. He is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery. His tomb monument was completed in 1873 and is a national attraction.

Fig. 4.  In 1876 the Firm of John Matthews issued a series of store cards designed by Karl Muller the F is for the Latin Fecit (made it).

The Muller design was engraved for corporate stationery and printed on their business envelopes.

Fig. 5.  Early specimen of the Matthews store card in print form this one sent to the photographers Grossklaus & Ricksecker, Navarre, Ohio, franked with Scott #169, postmarked New York, June 1,  1876. Formerly kept in a stamp album with corner mounts with only very slight oxidation on front corner tips as seen in above photograph. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.  Low Estimate $125-$175. Write john@numismaticmall.com

Fig. 6. Business correspondence between the Firm of John Matthews and the First National Bank, Newburyport, Massachusetts, postmarked August 11, 1886, Doremus cancel. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library. This cover has the graphic illustration of the store card reverse designed for the American Centennial. This specimen is in unusual since most are torn or soiled, but this one is in Extra Fine to Near Mint condition. Low Estimate $100-$150. Write john@numismaticmall.com


In 1882 the heirs issued a commemorative medal celebrating fifty years of the invention of the soda water fountain and its patent.

Bibliography :

"Copperheads," American Journal of Numismatics, Vol. 1, No. 10, February (1867) : 80, No. 252
B. P. Wright, "The American Store or Business Cards,"  The Numismatist (1898) : 228, No. 645, and 230, No. 674
Thomas L. Elder, "A Plea For American Token Collecting," The Numismatist Vol. 28, April (1915) : 136
David Schenkman & H. Joseph Levine, "Exonumia Notebook :  Coll Brandon & Co.," The Numismatist, Vol. 91, No. 1, January (1978) : 42
Charlotte & David Gale, "The Drugstore Soda Fountain : A Study and Catalog of Nineteenth-Century Soda Tokens," The Numismatist, Vol. 96, No. 1, January (1983) : 25
Russell Rulau, Standard Catalogue of United States Tokens 1700-1900 (Iola : Krause, 1997) : 588

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