Tokens & Medals

Judy’s Magic Touch

Published May 1, 2024 | 5 min read

By David Schenkman

To say that John Finley Judy was an unusual man would be an understatement. Born in Madison County, Ohio, on March 18, 1856, Judy’s mother died when he was only 5 years old. Although he had very little formal schooling, which included just 60 days in high school, he possessed the discipline needed to educate himself enough to earn a teacher’s certificate, after which he taught high school for five years.

Judy’s teaching career ended when he started making his living as a farmer. Eventually he realized that his forte was horse trading, and before long, he was buying horses and other animals on a large scale. In the process, he learned that he could make a considerable amount of money by financing his customers’ purchases. He advertised extensively and circulated flyers that listed the items he would take in trade. He developed his “Judy System” for selling farm equipment and financing it with a long-term payment plan. His business philosophy was to never discount a note, but rather to hold it until it was paid off or had become worthless. Over time, his establishment and the town that sprouted up around it became known as Judyville. According to The Indianapolis News, he became “known in every banking institution and horse market of any kind in the country.” 

Philosopher Farmer

The September 27, 1902, issue of The Indianapolis News devoted nearly an entire page to an article titled “Judyville Rises from the Ashes Under the Magic Touch of John F. Judy.” Describing him as a “financier, farmer and philosopher,” it gave a detailed account of Judy’s life, relating that 

“The business became so great that Judy found that he was trading for threshers, mowing machines, buggies, old and new—in fact, he traded for anything tradable. He employed men to work the land and harvest crops. He called the place the Grand Prairie Horse and Mule Market, and sent out advertising that proved effective. “

In addition to his business, Judy opened a general store, a hotel, and even a small school.

John Judy issued tokens that advertised his business and could be redeemed for merchanside at his general store
(Photo: David Schenkman)

A booklet appropriately titled “The Judy Booklet” was distributed extensively. In it, he offered his life philosophy, including financial advice and many of his “dos and don’ts” for achieving success. Judy estimated that 20,000 people took his advice every year. The booklet was printed by the Call Publishing Company of Lafayette, Indiana—a business partially owned by Judy.

Accused of Theft

Judy’s honesty was called into question in 1903. In April the Fort Wayne Sentinel was among several Indiana newspapers reporting that he had been arrested on three counts of horse stealing. The affidavit charged that Judy, who was described as one of the wealthiest men in the state, “had engineered the scheme, laid the plot, and reaped the reward.” The case dragged on until April 1905, at which time it was dismissed.

Like numerous other merchants, Judy used trade tokens. The obverse inscription reads JUDY DOES MORE THAN HE AGREES/THE/JUDY/SYSTEM. On the reverse, the denomination appears in the center, with GOOD FOR above and IN MERCHANDISE below. The expected 5, 10, 25, 50, and 1.00 denominations were issued, all struck in aluminum; their sizes are 21mm, 24mm, 28mm, 32mm, and 36mm, respectively. They appear to be the work of the Quint Company, a large Philadelphia manufacturer of tokens and medals.

At the height of his success, Judy’s empire consisted of about 1,600 acres of land in Judyville, plus various parcels of farmland in other areas of the country and Canada. He became involved in the automobile business around 1912 and reportedly sold 200 cars in one year. According to his obituary, Judy’s sales averaged $2,000 a day, and that at one time “he owned 50 stores, livery stables, banks, coal mines and small factories, having taken most of them over on loans.” 

In the early 1920s, Judy started to experience financial problems. His liabilities were estimated at $325,000, while his assets were between
$300,000 and $400,000.

Money Trouble

In the early 1920s, Judy started to experience financial problems. In December 1922, he assigned his personal and real property to Harley D. Dillings, a prominent Warren County farmer, to avoid litigation. His liabilities were estimated at $325,000, while his assets were between $300,000 and $400,000. The primary reason for his reversal of fortune was a depreciation in the value of his farmland.

After 45 years of marriage, Judy filed for divorce in 1924, claiming that his wife had deserted him four years earlier, and alleging “extreme and repeated cruelty.” In March, two days after the divorce was granted, he remarried and informed his friends that he and his bride were moving out west to start a new life. By 1926 the couple had settled in Canada, and later they moved to California.

In June 1930 Judy returned to his home in Judyville. He had been suffering from failing health for several years and wanted to be near old friends. On October 12, 1931, he died at home, peacefully and penniless.

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A version of this article appears in the June 2024 issue of The Numismatist (