Obverse Design All lettering incused. First line across the top "ISTHMIAN CANAL". Second line "COMMISSION". Third and last line in larger font "33449" (employee number).
Reverse Design Blank.
Metal White metal - most likely nickel-plated brass Size and Shape Star shape with sharp corners. 51.5mm from top point to bottom point, 44.5 mm across the middle at the widest point. Round hole at the top.
Dates Issued First issued sometime between January 1, 1906 and September 4, 1907 (see notes). Word of mouth story is that these id checks for only used for a short time because they kept stabbing people in the thigh. The large stars have higher numbers and the manufacturer name which was missing on the smaller stars. Therefore these smaller stars were probably made first. An announcement was made January 19, 1909 that all star-shaped checks should be turned in for the round ICC checks by March 1, 1909.
Issurer Isthmian Canal Commission. This was the U.S. government entity set up by Congress to build the canal.
Numbers Issued The pieces in collector hands include #33449.
Rarity Very Rare. Manufacturer Unknown, but probably American Railway Supply Co. (New York) like the larger stars. Source Sale on ebay, Asociación Numismático's ID-5.

There are two almost identical brass star-shaped ICC checks. One is slightly larger and has larger numbers than the other. The easiest way to tell, however, is that the larger star has the manufacturer's name in tiny letters at the base of the top point while the smaller star does not. Some of the smaller stars were nickel-plated, thus creating a third variety.

Some stars have had their points rounded off, probably by their original owner when they got poked one too many times. This damage reduces the value by two grades (i.e. a check in grade Fine is valued as if it were graded Good). Some checks have one or two additional small holes. If the lettering and numbers are undamaged, there is no reduction in value for these holes.

A number of these stars including #19815 and #42464 were sold to the Isthmian Canal Souvenir Company by the ICC. As #42464 has the points removed, these appear to be stars that were returned to the ICC after being used. The souvenir company attached the stars to a plaque made from an old Panama Railroad Tie and put the title "A Life for Each Tie: Panama" on the plaque and sold them at the Panama Pacific exposition. The Canal Record in June 1914 mentions that bids are being accepted to buy about 1500 old series metal checks from the ICC. Perhaps the Isthmian Canal Souvenir Company was the successful bidder, and these are the checks in question. I have seen both small and large stars attached to the plaques, but not any of the nickel-plated stars.

Function These were employee id checks, issued to all Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC) employees. They were used in controlling access to ICC facilities (such as commissaries and hotels). They were also used to identify each employee when they were cashing their pay certificate (similar to a paycheck).
Historical Note

Timekeepers were instructed to collect 50 cents from contract laborers who failed to turn in their star-shaped checks. This provision did not apply to American citizens. Approximately one-sixth of the work force was American citizens.

A governor's circular dated December 27, 1907 refers to the star checks and gives the instruction that employees should retain the same star check when transferring between divisions. The first Canal Record came out in September 4, 1907, and there are no references to the metal checks before December 27, 1907. So the star checks most likely were issued before September 4, 1907.

Population Count Known specimens are as follows:
  1. Check #33449 - Sold on ebay by 'snyderstr' to 'czborn' on July 5, 2003 for $124.99 plus $5.00 shipping.