During World War II, the federal government initiated a new agency called the "Office of Price Administration aka the OPA." Its objectives included rationing of scarce commodities, price fixing on certain items to avoid speculation, Black Market activity, preventing runaway inflation during the war.
Each household was issued ration books based on a variety of factors: number of people in the household, ages, children under the age of 3, elderly, and handicapped. These ration booklets contained various small stamps which had no cash value, but were required to purchase food items for example four "B" stamps for each pound of ground beef or five "A" stamps for a bag of sugar. All store items had a price marked as well as a ration book stamp requirement. So every purchase had to also include the right number of ration stamps.
Other items came under the OPA including tires and gasoline. Cars had to display a gasoline assignment sticker A, B, or C, indicating the quantity of gas one could purchase at one time. Drivers were issued ration stamps to meet their needs; truckers and cab drivers got more than passenger cars. Some vehicles were forced to be out of service for the war due to a lack of stamps for tires and or gasoline.
The price of the item was not a factor in the use of these stamps. However, to make exact change, shopkeepers were issued small red and or blue tokens. They were made of a vulcanized fiber and were 16-mm in diameter. These basically were "small change" for stamps from ration books.
The blue tokens had a value of one point and had two letters and read "OPA Blue Point 1." There are 24 different letter combinations known for the blue tokens. The red tokens similarly read "OPA Red Point 1" and came in 30 different letter combinations. Some products required red tokens in change while other products required blue tokens as change. These tokens were issued from 1942 to 1945 when rationing ended. The letters seem to have had no specific meaning and were apparently random.
On various price lists, the blue tokens sell for 80 cents and the red tokens for 40 cents. The few scarcer letters sell for $2 and $4. Error pieces usually off-center or double-struck pieces are more valuable, with prices shown online of $2.50 to $6 for off-center pieces and $5 to $6.50 for double-struck pieces. On eBay, groups of such tokens often sell for less than 10 cents each. Many households of this era still have some of these tokens as well as partially used ration books.
The ration tokens produced by the Osbourne Register Company were produced for $1.19 per thousand tokens. In all 2 billion tokens were produced with a breakdown of 1.1 billion red and 900 million blue tokens. The tokens were packed 250 to a box, 20 boxes to a carton. The tokens were then shipped to more than 15,000 banks for the ultimate delivery to 450,000 retailers.
Elaborate precautions were taken to prevent theft of the tokens, otherwise the OPAs whole system would be hamstrung until new dies and tokens could be prepared. Each machine had a calculator, reels were weighed before being fed into the machines, and after, tokens and scrap had to be equal to that weight.
A score of guards were scattered about the plant. They rode the trucks that brought the fiber rolls from the rail yards to the warehouse. Signs were posted in the plant that illegal possession of tokens would bring a $10,000 fine and imprisonment for at least a year or both.
The blue tokens were discontinued on Oct. 1 1944. By this time all processed food was now 10 points and all coupons were 10 points. By December 1944 all stamps were invalidated and all red tokens were discontinued. While many tokens have been lost over the years, a small segment of coin collectors specialize in collecting these old ration tokens.