The Gospel Checks of H. B. Gibbud

by Nicholas Martin
©2014 All rights reserved.
As most of us will surely agree, collecting tokens has changed radically with the advent of the Internet, and especially with eBay. I recently and very happily acquired a new addition in the form of my first shellcard, issued by H. B. Gibbud and good for “a free drink.” On closer inspection, though, it was easy to see that this was not your typical saloon keeper – his drink was from the “water of life”:

I’m a great believer in the power of the Internet and wasted no time “letting my fingers do the walking” in search of whatever I might learn. I quickly came upon a number of references to Henry Burton Gibbud and his work with the Rescue Mission of Syracuse, New York:

This mission was established in 1887 for the purpose of reaching classes who would not be likely to attend church and give them the blessings of the gospel. The experienced services of Mr. and Mrs. H. B. Gibbud of New York City were secured, and under their advice mission rooms were opened on Washington Street [56 East Railroad Street], near Mulberry, on Sunday evening, September 4, 1887. The work of the mission attracted public attention through its immediate success in drawing to its doors many who would otherwise have been wholly without religious instruction.

The still-existing Mission provides an extensive online history with numerous references to Gibbud, who “worked tirelessly on behalf of lost souls wherever he could find them.”

This dedicated, sensitive man was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and attended the Lay College of the Rev. Dr. T. DeWitt Talmage in Brooklyn. Converted to Christ in 1876, he became a member of the South Second Street Methodist Church.

He organized street urchins into a Mission Sunday School and began preaching in the streets and on the docks.

In 1880 he was a missionary in the slums of Baxter Street. By 1883 he founded the [Florence] Crittenden Mission with the generous financial backing of Charles N. Crittenden.

An acquaintance, S. H. Hadley, said of Mr. Gibbud during this period that while on the Bowery, "He would go out by night, and all night long into the streets of New York working for God. He took his life in his hands. There was not a place where he was not familiar. How many times have I seen him kneeling in prayer by the side of a dying girl, telling her of Jesus! Many times have I met him, the coldest nights, with a large can of hot coffee strapped to his side... He would go among the lost ones, into rooms, hallways, cellars and serve them hot coffee. . .every hospital, every police station, every jail knew him."

Some revealing insights into the times and setting of Gibbud’s work in Syracuse come from this passage in the online history:

Some concept of the neighborhood which housed the Mission in its earliest days can be gained from the chart developed by the Missions staff for its 1892 report.

Of buildings in a six-block area, 25 were respectable business establishments or homes; 14 were saloons; 24 were houses of “ill-fame,’ and 14 others combined the services of both saloon and sporting house.

On one Saturday night, Mission personnel counted 2,011 persons, mostly young men, going into one bar in four hours. At another saloon, 976 men, 196 women, and 72 children went in. On one block where four houses of ill repute were located, 214 men were seen to enter during the course of an evening.

But the evangelizing work of Henry Gibbud was not limited to the inner city:

Every season for 10 years past, Mr. Gibbud has arranged for Gospel services among the thousands of men and women who go to the hop gardens of Oneida and Madison Counties in New York State to gather the harvest. The evangelists travel in a wagon through the district, visiting the gardens during the day, distributing tracts and religious literature. In the evening, a Gospel service is held in some centrally situated place, sometimes in a farmhouse, sometimes in a barn or schoolhouse and occasionally at the crossroads in the open air.

Within several years, the wagon ministry “had reached 65,927 Central New Yorkers.”

Summarizing his final years, the Mission history explains that

Mr. Gibbud, assisted by his very capable wife, Ellen, guided the early destinies of the Rescue Mission. He organized, among other things, a Worker's Training Class and a weekly Bible class, and administered the first relief work kitchens during the severely economically depressed year of 1893.

The Gibbuds continued their work in Syracuse until 1896, when he was called to the faculty of Bible Normal College in Springfield, Mass. There he continued his Christian endeavors until his death on December 3, 1901…. Henry B. Gibbud literally worked himself to death. The gospel of "Spare Thyself'' had no place in his theology. For the last two years of his life he suffered from heart disease which resulted from a stroke he suffered while preaching one day at Central Baptist Church in Syracuse.

Less than two hours before his death Mr. Gibbud was perfecting plans for gospel work at the Charleston Inter-State Exposition. The end came peacefully. His career serves as an example—an inspiration to good works—a call to 1,000 percent wholehearted consecration and service.

The history continues in saying that “The Rescue Mission carried on its work in the Gibbud tradition.” And indeed it does so today.

In my Internet searches, I also found that Gibbud had written a book which was published the year of his death. I ordered a copy in hopes that it would reveal something of Mr. Gibbud as a person, but here I was somewhat disappointed. It told me everything I would ever need to know about open air evangelizing, and it is a wonderful period piece as an illustrated, pocket-sized book by the man whose “good for” now graces my collection. But just as I was despairing of finding anything of particular relevance to exonumia, I turned to page 72. There I struck gold in the following passage describing his use of gospel checks at the county fairs, where “the devil has had a monopoly…these last years.” The use of centered, bold caps is as they appear in Gibbud’s book:

                          HERE WE USED OUR GOSPEL CHECKS


They are about the size of a quarter of a dollar and are nickel and gilt and very attractive. We would hold up a handful of these shining checks and say, "It is usual at some meetings to pass the hat. We are going to do it here at the close of the service only instead of asking you to put something into the hat, we will ask you to take out one of these little souvenirs to take away with you. They are not quarters nor

                   FIVE DOLLAR GOLD PIECES,

but you want to get one and all who are here at the close of the meeting may have one." Then we would go on with the service and people would stand for an hour to get one of those checks. They have a gospel message and will be shown to many and carried as pocket pieces. You get at more unsaved people in a day than you would get into your church in the whole year.

He also used them at tent meetings:

When our tent was erected a crowd of children would always collect. We showed them some of our gospel checks and promised one to each who would tell all the neighbors about the meetings. Special offers were made for any who would bring father and mother to the service. [pg 61]

Gibbud used every conventional form of advertising to bring people to his meetings - and every possible form of outreach to take his missionary work to the fields and the streets. But his creativity and his passion, especially with regard to exonumia, is demonstrated in the unconventional approaches he used to get Bible verses into the hands of as many people as possible. He designed Scripture cards and “winning” playing cards. He wrote with chalk and painted on signs and buildings. He also used what he called “Arrows”:

which are gospel messages on bright colored cardboard about the size of a circus ticket. The crowd eagerly reach for them, not knowing what they are ; as all have a short message on them they get the gospel whether they want it or not. On one side is a catchy title such as, “How to become rich,” “Boycott,”…“A free drink.” On the other side is an appropriate gospel message. They are read and kept. [pp 65-66]

His motivation, and indeed a cornerstone of his philosophy, is explained very clearly:

We believe in the power of the Word of God. Heb. 4:12. So we covered our wagons with Scripture texts, that all who saw the wagon might get a message as we passed. [44]

We believe it will cut its way from a fence or rock to the heart of the sinner, and so we have done much of this work. We seldom go out without a piece of chalk in our pocket, and often on box, fence or sidewalk, chalk a Scripture text. It is sure to be read ; it may save some soul…. We believe as business men find it pays to keep their goods before the public in this way ; it will also pay to keep God’s Word where many who will never enter the house of worship may see it. [51-52]

Coming as it does unexpectedly, there is a double force in it…. We are not responsible for results, they are in God’s hands. [66]

While I cannot be sure that my quarter-size (25mm) brass shellcard is the very same check that Gibbud describes as “nickel and gilt,” mine was surely made during the relatively short time that he lived in Springfield, from 1896-1901. Thanks to the Internet and especially to the Mission he founded, my Gibbud gospel check, coming unexpectedly and sure to be read and kept, has already been good for much more than a drink.


1) Oneida County, NY, Genealogical and Historical Resources:

2) Rescue Mission Alliance, Inc. of Syracuse, NY:

3) Under the Blue Canopy of Heaven, An Open Air Workers’ Handbook, H.B. Gibbud, The Bible Institute Colportage Association of Chicago, 1901.

The foregoing article first appeared in the December 2004 edition of the TAMS Journal of the Token and Medal Society. It is copyrighted by Nicholas Martin, 2014, and reprinted with permission of the author.