English Merchant Tokens
By Richard G. Doty - Chicago Coin Club | Wednesday, 1 January 1986
At three times in the past, tokens played a large role in the story of British numismatics. In each case, their issue and circulation indicated an emergency situation, one in which the production and distribution of normal media of exchange had become inadequate.
The first such occasion occupied the middle years of the seventeenth century, from the late 1640's to the late 1670's essentially the turbulent period of the Interregnum and the first part of the restored regime of Charles II. It ended rather quickly, once the Crown decided to issue its own copper farthings and halfpennies, which were introduced in 1672 and 1673, respectively. This first regal copper issue was buttressed by a royal proclamation declaring tokens illegal. The last English tokens of this period date from 1674, although they were permitted in Ireland for a few years longer, until 1679.
Over a century later, a second crisis produced a second, more massive issue of copper tokens. These pieces first appeared in 1787, and they were struck in consistently large numbers over the next ten years. Their production and circulation was once again rendered unneccessary by action of the Crown: in 1797, George III empowered one of the outstanding token manufacturers, Matthew Boulton, of Soho, near Birmingham, to strike copper coins on behalf of the government. A third and final token issue saw the light in 1811, continuing through most of the 1810-1820 decade. This final series was declared illegal by an 1817 Act of Parliament, although certain places were allowed to circulate tokens for a few more years. In 1821, the Royal Mint took the basic step of providing the public with that which it was now preventing others from providing - the low-denomination copper coins. And it made a determined, consistent effort in this direction. Since that time, tokens have not played an essential part in British monetary life as a whole, although they have been used for a number of specialized purposes, such as public transportation, and in certain specialized industries, such as coal mining.
It must be stressed that, when we speak of British tokens, we are almost always speaking of copper pieces, with a stated or implied value of a penny or less. That this should be the case is partially explained by the attitude of the British government concerning copper as a coinage metal. Throughout the period under discussion, the official view was that copper was not a proper metal for a regal coinage at all, and, by extension, that copper coinage was not an especially important activity for the Royal Mint to pursue. This bias led to James I's selling of a patent to produce farthings to his crony, Lord Harington of Rutland, in a most ingenious scheme. Harington was to produce 100,000 lbs. of farthings, weighing six grains each. The king calculated that they would have a circulating value £90,400, but would cost only £25,450 to strike. Harington was to be allowed £25,000 profit for his trouble, and the remaining profit would go to the King! This was in 1613; we can still see traces of the bias against copper in the 1790's, when the Royal Mint, still feeling that a copper coinage was somehow beneath its dignity, allowed Matthew Boulton to strike the famous Cartwheel coins on its behalf. Boulton was allowed to coin copper for it again in 1799, and yet again in 1806-1807.
This jaundiced view of copper for coinage was not unique to the British government. We may observe something similar at the early United States Mint, where copper was coined only when there was an absence of gold and silver for the eagles, dollars, and dimes which made up the real coinage of the young Republic. This attitude was also reflected in the very limited legal tender status assigned to American copper coins.
Of course, such an attitude on the part of officialdom does not neccessarily call forth a copper token coinage. But in the case of Britain, it happened to coincide with a basic historical fact: more and more people where leaving the farm for the workshop and, later, the factory. As Britain moved from a predominantly rural, farming situation to an increasingly urban, industrialized one, the traditional methods of payment for labor and products in kind or in services began to break down. And more and more people entered a wage-earning situation. In the absence of low-denomination coins, how would they be paid? Inevitably, the effort to answer this question would call the token into being.
Before discussing the tokens of each of our three periods in detail, we must make some general observations concerning them. In particular, what distinguishes the members of one series from those of the other two?
The seventeenth-century issues were all rather small, usually around twenty millimeters in diameter or a bit less. This was in keeping with their stated value - most of them are halfpennies or farthings. They are usually round, but were sometimes struck in the shapes of hearts, squares, or lozenges; eight-sided pieces are also known. This variation from the circular is not reflected in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century issues. Seventeenth-century tokens are all quite thin, and they invariably have plain edges, as we might expect.
They tend predominantly to be the products of local merchants - shopkeepers, grocers, owners of taverns and inns. Towns occasionally also issued such tokens - indeed, the last seventeenth-century English tokens were circulated by the town of Chester in 1674. Whoever was responsible for them, these tokens always bore very simple designs. Their diminutive size naturally set restrictions on the amount of artistry which could be applied to their manufacture. But there was also a particular attitude behind their production which would lead to simplicity of design. These tokens were, purely and simply, a substitute for real money, struck in a hurry. They were intended for use, and not for collectors.
They usually bore the name of the issuer on the obverse, the denomination, place, and date on the reverse, although this arrangement was by no means invariable. The initials of the issuer, generally accompanied by those of his wife, also graced the reverse. What artistic representation there was tended to appear on the obverse - a symbol of the trade pursued by the issuer if private, the arms of a town or city if public. None of the seventeenth-century tokens was intended for general circulation; each was attached to a distinct, and fairly circumscribed, region.
Eighteenth-century tokens passed through a number of phases, unlike their seventeenth-century counterparts. They were most commonly issued in the denomination of a halfpenny, although penny tokens are also common, early in the period, as are farthings towards its end. These tokens were much larger and heavier pieces than their seventeenth-century predecessors, the halfpenny tokens mirroring the size and weight of regular regal copper coins. Many, in fact, were a good deal heavier than their royal equivalents.
Their size and thickness had much to do with their appearance. Most were much more skillfully designed than members of the earlier group. While artistry could still be crude (and was very often trite), it could sometimes be outstanding, reflecting the best of eighteenth-century Neoclassical taste. The thickness of these tokens encouraged lettered edges: here was a handy place to indicate where the tokens might be redeemed. As time wore on, tokens with plain edges also appeared, struck in a one-piece collar. These tokens proclaimed (and indeed fostered) technological changes in coinage itself: the screw press was yielding place to a steam-powered apparatus, which would soon be employed for orthodox coinage as well.
Thousands of different tokens were struck in the ten years between 1787 and 1797. They began as payment for workers in the booming manufacturing and mining establishments of the early Industrial Revolution. Their utility soon demonstrated itself to ordinary merchants, who were issuing them as well by the beginning of the 1790's. In time, pieces for general circulation, (usually of a lighter weight than those of specific issuers) came into being, as did counterfeits, and, by 1794, tokens for collectors. But no issues specifically for towns were struck.
In sum, the eighteenth-century token coinage shows some characteristics not seen for seventeenth-century issues. But low-denomination pieces predominate, as does the use of copper as a coinage metal.
In general, nineteenth-century tokens feature higher denominations than their predecessors. If halfpennies were most popular in the eighteenth-century series, pennies found greatest favor in that of the nineteenth century. The typical nineteenth-century token will have been struck by steam power; its large size and heavy weight will have rendered this necessary. It is likely to have been struck in a one-piece collar, but it will have received thread milling on its edge while still in the planchet stage. Matthew Boulton had introduced this arrangement on his regal halfpennies of 1799, and it proved highly popular on copper coins and tokens for the next twenty years of so. Our typical nineteenth-century token will almost certainly lack the artistry of its eighteenth-century equivalent. It will have been struck for immediate use, perhaps for the workmen at a particular firm, and not for collectors. It will therefore not possess the beauty we encounter on earlier issues. As it is likely to be the product of an industrial or mining concern, it may depict scenes of manufacturing or smelting. Or it may feature a product made by the firm. It may as easily simply bear the name of the issuer, the denomination, and perhaps the date. The relatively inartistic approach seen on the nineteenth-century copper token has limited its appeal to the collector.
While these coppers are most commonly the products of industrial and related concerns, they were also produced by a few merchants, as well as on behalf of some public organizations, such as workhouses. Pieces for general circulation are also plentiful, just as they were in the 1790's. But there are no copper tokens from this period specifically for collectors. While pennies predominate, halfpennies are also common. There are also a few farthings on the low end of the copper scale. On its upper end, there are twopenny pieces and even gigantic threepenny coppers, so large that they must have been accepted only with the greatest reluctance, even by a coin-starved public.
Alone among the three token series, the nineteenth-century phase did not stop with subsidiary copper pieces. Silver tokens were also produced, and, in a very few instances, gold ones. The Crown moved against these precious-metal issues fairly quickly: while copper might be beneath its notice, silver and gold most definitely were not. But the very appearance of private silver sixpences, shillings, and halfcrowns - not to mention gold half guineas - is an indication that the provision of official coinage had effectively broken down. The Crown would take steps to repair it in and after 1816.
Seventeenth Century Tokens
Relatively little is known about the actual production of seventeenth-century tokens. The center for their manufacture would appear to have been London, but Birmingham, which was even then a focus of the metalworking trades, was also represented, and one can safely assume that other towns made their contributions to the industry. In addition, the identity of punches used for issues from various towns suggests the existence of itinerant coiners, who took their simple equipment from town to town, in a fashion reminiscent of the traveling mints of antiquity.
The earliest issues are dated 1649. One of them, the product of the Ship Inn, near Temple Bar, London, is illustrated. It is a farthing, and a fairly typical example of a seventeenth-century token, except for its early date. The 1650's and 1660's were the great days of this first phase of British tokens; thousands of pieces are known, most of them from England, but with Wales, Scotland, and Ireland also well represented.
As mentioned earlier, the majority of them were the products of tradesmen and innkeepers. Virtually every business imaginable finds representation on these tokens. Joseph Travers, of Rochester, Kent, advertises his trade (tobacconist) with a roll of the weed and four pipes. George Robinson, of Witham, Essex, advertises his trade with the crude depiction of a still. A druggist from Dorsetshire (Danyell Taylor of Bridport) adorns his tokens with a mortar and pestle, essential objects of his trade. Somewhat less likely is the device on Cornelius Glover's penny token. Glover was a trussmaker, and the obverse of his piece bears this prosthetic device, held by a naked boy. This token is also unusual in being made of brass, with a copper plug in its center.
Other merchants, members of the guilds which still formed an important part of life in the seventeenth century, displayed the arms granted to their professions on their tokens. Thus, we see the Grocers' Arms on a farthing of Jonathan Troughton, whose business was located in the town of Maidstone, Kent. Not all of these tokens were issued by men. A few of the firms producing them were operated and owned by women. Margaret Yarnoll, of Alcester, Warwickshire, was responsible for an early farthing, whose obverse type was a jar. She would presumably have conducted business as a grocer. Several years later, her neighbor Ann Wade, a candlemaker by trade, issued a halfpenny as well.
In the seventeenth century, innkeepers issued more tokens than members of any other profession - well over a thousand, by a recent account. They were joined by people in related trades, those managing taverns and coffeehouses. James Jackson, who was the proprietor of the Sunn in Plymouth, issued an early farthing, rather logically depicting the sun. William Diston's token from Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, also referred to the name of his establishment by means of his central type. Diston owned the White Hart, a prominent inn in that town, and a representation of the animal formed the obverse type on his farthing of 1666.
Coffeehouses produced a fair number of tokens at this time, a reflection of their increasing importance in the leisure activities of the period. Coffeehouses were much more than simply places where coffee was consumed. They were where you met with other people in your neighborhood, to exchange news and gossip, to debate politics, even to take classes to further your education. Two coffeehouse pieces deserve mention here. The first comes from the Rainbow, opened by James Farr in 1656. His business was in Fleet Street, and area in the center of the City of London which was largely destroyed by the Great Fire of September 1666. Miraculously, the Rainbow escaped damage, and Farr issued his halfpenny token near the end of that year to celebrate that fact.
The other coffeehouse piece is one of a large number circulated by Morat's, which was also located in London, in Exchange Alley. It is undated, but we know that the business which issued it opened in 1662 and burned down during the fire which spared Farr's four years later. It was never reopened. Morat's issued three varieties of penny tokens and one type of halfpenny. The piece illustrated is one of the pennies, featuring a design unusually elaborate for the seventeenth-century series.
One of the more interesting features of these tokens is that by no means all of them are round. Tokens in several other shapes were produced, many of them the products of towns rather than individuals. The authorities of Louth in Lincolnshire issued an odd, diamond-shaped halfpenny in 1671, for the relief of the poor. In Bewdley, Worcestershire, an enterprising grocer named Thomas Dedicot, renowned for "square dealing," issued a square halfpenny, while a maltster named John Gosse circulated an octagonal halfpenny advertising his business in Windsor, Berkshire. Heart-shaped tokens were quite popular. just as Gosse was issuing his halfpenny, a dyer in the same county, Michael Williams of Wantage, was circulating his halfpenny token in the shape of a heart. A few towns over, Richard Fowler of Faringdon was doing the same. Fowler was a corsetmaker: the choice of shape for his token must have been a deliberate one.
As noted earlier, towns circulated a fair number of tokens; while odd shapes were experimented with, most municipal tokens were round, just as were most private ones. Town tokens came about because of an initial monetary shortage, followed by a large and confusing issue of private tokens to meet the problem. Municipal tokens were therefore struck as a standard against which other people's money might be judged, in addition to their roles in poor relief and as substitutes, along with private tokens, for regal coinage.
They ordinarily bore the arms of the issuing town on the obverse, a statement as to denomination and date on the reverse. A few of them were struck after the 1672 proclamation banning basemetal tokens in general, something which we shall also see for nineteenth-century issues. Seventeenth-century municipal tokens are usually heavier and somewhat better-made than their private counterparts, a reflection of their intended role as a sort of standard emergency coinage.
Eighteenth Century Tokens
Private and public tokens alike left circulation once the Crown made a determined effort to provide small change for the people. But an implicit threat remained: if more and more people entered the cash economy, and if the Royal Mint once again refused to provide them with copper coinage, then the copper token would reappear. It did so in the 1780's, and the British Isles entered their second phase of private, unofficial coinage.
There had been prior indications that this might take place, in Ireland in the late 1720's and 1730's, in Scotland after mid-century. But copper issues of the first two Georges were struck in fair quantity, and a large issue of farthings and halfpennies in the early 1770's gave promise that the government of George III would make a sincere effort to continue to meet public demand.
Unfortunately, the new issue came to an abrupt halt in 1775. For the next twenty-two years, despite earnest remonstrances to Parliament and King, no royal issues were forthcoming. (Indeed, if we seek copper coinage actually by the Royal Mint rather than for it, we must wait until 1821.)
Unfortunately, this halt in production happened to coincide with the opening phases of the Industrial Revolution, which was bringing ever-increasing numbers of people together in a wage environment. The situation rapidly worsened, and metal fabricators in and around Birmingham, the center of the new industry, finally decided to take matters into their own hands. As the greatest of them, Matthew Boulton of Soho, remarked in 1787,
... for if our Governmt will not make a new copper coinage we shall force them to it by coining for our Selves such copper penys.
And so the second phase began. If we like, we can divide it into three separate acts. The first lasted from 1787 to about 1790. During those years, the industrial leaders of the period had tokens struck for their workers, or struck them themselves. By the beginning of the 1790's, token issue was spreading to smaller businesses, who had the pieces struck for them in Birmingham or London, then distributed them in their individual towns. This second act lasted for about four years, and it gradually blended into a third, which would occupy the final years of eighteenth-century token production. For by the mid-1790's, a fair number of people had become interested in collecting the tokens issued during the past few years. The result was a plethora of new tokens, many of them of an essentially medallic nature. Few issues after 1794 were solely intended for circulation.
But in the beginning of this eighteenth-century phase, all were so intended. The first pieces to appear were pennies, products of the Parys Mine Company, owner of immensely rich copper workings near the town of Amlwch, on the island of Anglesey. By the later 1780's, the mining operation (an open pit affair, conducted by blasting away the ore-rich face of Parys Mountain with gunpowder) was employing well over a thousand men locally, and many more at its rolling operations at Holywell, Flintshire. Early in 1787, the owners of the concern, headed by Thomas Williams of Llanidan, the legendary Copper King of industrial folklore, decided to set up their own mint, striking some of their copper into penny pieces for their employees' use.
What happened next is not entirely clear and probably never will be. But there seem to have been two mints, one at Holywell, the other in Birmingham, on the site of the present Great Charles Street. It is conjectured that the penny issues of 1787 were struck in Holywell, those of 1788 in Birmingham; this guesswork is based upon the few clues remaining in Birmingham. But we do not known the precise time of the transfer of operations from one mint to another, nor do we know the precise reasons for the switch. We do know the artist responsible for the issue: he was John Gregory Hancock, Sr., a talented inventor and die-sinker of the day. Hancock would be responsible for a great many of the tokens of this first phase of the eighteenth-century series.
Halfpennies joined the pennies in 1788; they were struck in quantity that year, and in somewhat smaller numbers in 1789. In the latter year, the company appears to have sold its equipment to another, much better known coiner, Matthew Boulton. Later issues were struck for the company by Boulton and several others, in 1790 and 1791. The series was also extensively counterfeited.
Genuine Parys Mine tokens are immediately distinguishable, however. They are lovely, massive pieces, containing close to their intrinsic value in copper. Hancock's sensitive portrait of a Druid adorned the obverse, set within a wreath of oak leaves. The reverse used a cypher representing the company's name as a central type; pennies included a promise of payment as a reverse legend, while the halfpennies indicated that they were products of the Anglesey mines. A carefully lettered edge gave the names of places where the tokens might be redeemed. Many of the pennies were struck in a restraining collar, after their edges had been marked.
All in all, over three hundred tons of these tokens were issued, making them the single most common type of eighteenth-century token. They proved extremely popular with mineworkers, but they soon moved into the larger monetary arena as well, praised for their beauty and high intrinsic value. Always a man with an eye for self-promotion, Thomas Williams undoubtedly took pains over their production with that goal in mind.
The Parys Mine tokens were known in London as early as the end of March, 1787. At that time, a second industrialist was preparing to issue copper tokens: John Wilkinson, the legendary Iron Master of the early Industrial Revolution. Wilkinson's tokens appeared in the spring of 1787. Like those of the Parys Mine Company, they were initially intended as payment for wages on a local basis, not for a larger circulation. Their edges bore the names of four hamlets in the "Black Country" - Willey, Snedshill, Bersham, and Bradley - at or near which Wilkinson had his iron foundries and allied works. He seems to have originally intended his tokens to circulate as pennies, a desire which was quickly abandoned due to local opposition. They were reissued as halfpennies, and they were struck intermittently down to 1795.
The first issues, those of 1787, 1788, and most of 1790, featured Wilkinson's portrait on the obverse, along with his name and self-bestowed title. Their reverses ordinarily depicted the interior of a forge, with a large drop hammer and a workman holding a piece of iron on an anvil beneath it. The date occupied the exergue. This reverse caused no comment, but the obverse did. Wilkinson's portrait quite strongly (and quite deliberately) mirrored regal practice, and it was therefore lampooned in the London Magazine of December 1787. Wilkinson stood his ground, however, and his likeness, rendered by John Gregory Hancock, Sr., would remain as an obverse type until the end of the series.
Hancock was also responsible for the reverse dies of these tokens. In 1788, the forge reverse was briefly joined by one featuring a ship. In 1790, a new reverse design, depicting a seated Vulcan, was introduced as well, appearing on a large number of tokens struck during that year and over the next two.
As with the Parys Mine tokens, the manufacturing history of these pieces is incompletely known. But a good many of them seem to have been struck at the Parys Mine Company's mints in Holywell and Birmingham - again judging from what scraps of contemporary information remain in Birmingham. This observation holds for the issues of 1787 and 1788; we know that Matthew Boulton struck the pieces with the forge reverse design from late 1790 on to the end of the series, while Hancock was responsible for those tokens with the Vulcan reverse.
There was originally to have been a silver token as well, tariffed at three shilling sixpence, and a few dozen pieces of this type, probably prepared by Hancock, made their appearance in 1788. They featured the usual Wilkinson obverse, a ship (nearly identical to the one on the scarce copper piece of the same year) on the reverse. But the issue never went into full production: Wilkinson was advised that, while he might be the king of the world of iron (as he liked to describe himself), and while the Crown would not mind his advertising the fact on copper tokens, it would take a distinctly dim view of the extension of his claims to silver. For silver money was the perogative of the real king, in London. So the issue was hastily abandoned.
The Wilkinson tokens were fairly extensively counterfeited in the early and middle 1790's. The same held true for the third of these early token issues, those of Roe & Company of Macclesfield, Cheshire. The Roe tokens, all halfpennies, were introduced in 1789, struck from copper from the Mona Mine, the firm's operation adjacent to the Parys Mine on Anglesey. Early issues featured the company's cypher, along with a beehive (the latter taken from the arms of the Roe family), surmounted by MACCLESFIELD, the tokens' town of issue. This obverse was supplanted the following year by a portrait of the firm's founder, Charles Roe, in a manner akin to the Wilkinson portrait noted earlier. The reverse type continued to be a female representation of Genius or Industry, seated and facing left, holding a cogwheel with her left hand. The date occupied the exergue. Macclesfield tokens exist with dates of 1789, 1790, 1791, and 1792; like the Wilkinson series, they were counterfeited to some degree. The designer of the genuine pieces was the ubiquitous John Gregory Hancock, Sr. He manufactured many of them himself, with Matthew Boulton also contributing his labors as a subcontractor, which appears to be the first time we can definitely ascribe such activity to him.
Two other token issues deserve mention as members of the early series. The first is dated 1789, and it was the product of the shadowy Associated Irish Mine Company, of Cronebane, County Wicklow. Matthew Boulton may have produced some of these half-penny tokens, again as a subcontractor, but Hancock appears to have struck most of them. He also designed the dies, and his portrait of St. Patrick, adorning the obverses used for the issue, is among his finest work. The same cannot be said of his reverses, which depicted the company's arms in pedestrian fashion. The lettered edges of these tokens promised payment in various towns.
The last of the early issues to be discussed here is undated, but it was probably struck in or around 1790. This was an expertly-designed series of Welsh halfpennies, the products of an iron master and tin plate manufacturer named John Morgan, of Carmathen. Hancock did these pieces, and they are most notable because of their detailed depictions of the actual iron manufacturing processes. These tokens were definitely meant for circulation rather than for collectors, however, for they are almost never encountered in better than mediocre condition.
By the beginning of the 1790's, tokens, and especially halfpenny tokens, had more than demonstrated their utility and popularity. This established, they began to be issued by ordinary tradesmen as well as by large industrialists. Over the next few years, hundreds of different tokens would appear, representing virtually every known trade of any importance in those days. Nearly all of these pieces would be halfpennies.
Not that issues by heavy industry would cease. The Parys, Wilkinson, and Roe tokens were joined by those from such firms as the Birmingham Mining and Copper Company, located in the city of that name, with mines in Redruth, Cornwall, and smelting operations in Swansea, Wales. Their large, handsome halfpennies were struck in 1791 and 1792 (and extensively counterfeited within a short time); the die-sinker was an early member of the Wyon family which was to design the majority of British coins in the nineteenth century. Genuine pieces feature a lettered edge with information as to places of redemption and the chemical symbols for several different metals. The year 1792 saw another token for a metalworking company which, due to its attractiveness and interest, must be mentioned here. This one was for the firm of Reynolds & Company, doing business in the tiny hamlet of Coalbrookdale, Shropshire. The Reynolds firm was also known as the Coalbrook-Dale Iron Company, with a branch at nearby Ketley. Its halfpenny tokens called attention to two of the firm's noteworthy accomplishments. It cast the iron for the iron bridge shown on the obverse, which spans the Severn to this day, the first such bridge ever built. And it constructed the ingenious inclined plane seen on the reverse at Ketley Lock on its private canal, because the hilly terrain there prevented the building of an ordinary stair of locks. If you wish to catch a glimpse of the inventive flair which produced the Industrial Revolution, a Coalbrookdale halfpenny is as good a place as any to do so. Manufactured by Peter Kempson of Birmingham, the token is fairly common in medium condition, but scarce in a higher grade.
Despite the industrial tokens just mentioned, the years 1790-1794 did largely represent a change in emphasis, to the half-penny token issued by the small-to-middling merchant. Reynolds & Company of Coventry had an extensive series prepared by Lutwyche (a Birmingham coining firm also heavily involved in the production of counterfeits during this period). The designs for the Reynolds halfpennies featured Lady Godiva on the obverse, the armorial bearings of the city of Coventry on the reverse; tokens with these designs were struck in 1792, and counterfeits exist dated 1793. In 1794, the firm issued a second series of halfpenny tokens; while the figure of Godiva was retained as an obverse type, the reverse now depicted the old market cross in the center of the city. This design combination was also used in 1795. The firm made ribbons. Members of all phases and aspects of the textile industry advertised their wares through the medium of tokens during these years. (This is a characteristic of eighteenth-century token coinage which is easily overlooked; there was usually an element of self-promotion present on the ordinary tradesmen's tokens of the first two phases.)
One of the most dedicated self-promoters of the period was John Lackington, a London bookseller. His story is the classic rags-to-riches saga: beginning life as a penniless destitute, he eventually began to buy and sell second-hand books in London. By 1774, he had saved enough to set himself up as a full-time bookseller; within twenty years, he was perhaps the largest such dealer in the world.
One would certainly think so from his tokens, which were issued that year and the year following. A facing bust of the proprietor adorns the obverse (this design, which was not particularly successful, yielded place to a more orthodox profile portrait in 1795). The reverse design, used with minor modifications in both years, was pure self-promotion, with a figure of Fame blowing a trumpet, proclaiming Lackington's firm the cheapest booksellers in the world. The edges of these tokens usually bore advice as to redemption; on several varieties, payment was guaranteed at the Temple of the Muses, Lackington's hi-falutin name for his expanded bookshop, which opened its doors in 1794. If we like, we may also see his tokens as commemorative pieces. All were struck by Lutwyche of birmingham; they are the most common eighteenth-century London tokens, all struck in the halfpenny denomination.
A final tradesman's tokens must receive comment here, because its issuer would lend his name to the entire token series of the eighteenth century. James Conder was a linen draper in Tavern Street, Ipswich, Suffolk. He circulated a halfpenny token in 1794 bearing the town's market cross on the obverse, his name and business on the reverse. Kempson of Birmingham struck the piece, and it is fairly common. James Conder was an ardent collector of the tokens being issued all around him. In 1798, he produced a book on the subject, called An Arrangement of Provincial Coins, Tokens, and Medalets Issued in Great Britain, Ireland, and the Colonies. The book proved popular with other collectors, and it remained the standard work on the subject for nearly a century. And to this day, many American and British collectors refer to these pieces as Conder tokens.
The token manufactures were quick to realize that people were seeking their products for other than purely commercial purposes. Thus, by 1794, they began altering their wares to meet the new collector demand. The tokens of the next three or four years would reflect this new emphasis. They would commemorate famous events, celebrate local history and scenes, occasionally pontificate, sometimes make humorous references to the token collectors themselves. And while many of them could be spent, might even, in some cases, be primarily intended for spending, there was always a glance in the direction of the hobbyist, even on these commercial tokens.
As an example, consider the Jackson token for Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire. This piece, perhaps the most artistic token of the entire period, introduces us to a new factor in the Industrial Revolution, an improvement in communications, in this case, canals. The obverse of this fine piece shows the Jackson family arms, while the reverse shows the river Stort, whose navigation was greatly improved by Act of Parliament in the mid-1760's. Barges can be seen on the river, in celebration of this fact. The man who issued the piece, Sir George Jackson, was judge Advocate of the Fleet, a friend and patron of Captain Cook. He promised payment on the edge of his halfpenny token, and in that sense, it could serve a commercial function.
But is also served a commemorative one, and surviving correspondence, as well as its rather small mintage, indicate that that was its primary purpose. It was struck by Matthew Boulton in mid-1796, despite the date on the piece (1795). C.H. Kuchler was the designer; he and Boulton would go on to produce the regal copper coinage of 1797 and subsequent years.
A second, far cruder piece, also illustrates the changing nature of the later eighteenth-century token. In 1796, J. Morse of Newent, Gloucestershire circulated an unusual halfpenny, advertising the virtues of his orchard business. The obverse of his token was unexceptional, bearing what are likely to have been the proprietor's family arms. But the reverse was something else again. In a spirit of numismatic whimsy (and, one suspects, because no one else had yet thought of it), Morse had a long legend rendered in the form of a spiral. The continuous line beneath the letters may have been intended by a harrassed die-sinker as a guide from which to work. The token is fairly common, usually seen in rather fine condition. The edge lettering announced that the piece was payable in Newent, which thus makes it a true commercial token. On the other hand, the spiral legend could hardly be other than an attempt to catch the eye of the collector.
Many other pieces of the period went still farther, essentially crossing the line between token and medalet. A fishmonger named Robert Peach, of the seaside town of Lowestoft, Suffolk, proclaimed the virtues of his home town on a charming piece of 1795. It was struck with a diagonally reeded edge, no payment promised. The tiny RP within a circle on the obverse is the only indication as to issuer. Peach's copper was but one of dozens of such issued, intended for tourists and collectors alike. A natural outgrowth of this trend was a number of pieces issued in series, calling attention to notable buildings in various towns. London was represented here, as were Gloucester, Birmingham, Coventry, and Bath. These series were never intended to circulate, but they do afford an almost photographic record of places which have been erased by time or, in a number of instances, by bombing raids during the Second World War. The Bath medalet illustrated, the work of Thomas Wyon, die-sinker, and Peter Kempson, manufacturer, is a typical representative of this collector group.
Other pieces struck for collectors display deeply patriotic motifs, natural products of the period, which saw the opening phases of the Napoleonic Wars. Others still called attention to the economic and political abuses of the time. Among these, the medallic tokens of Thomas Spence are most interesting.
Spence was a political radical, professional gadfly, and visionary reformer, born in 1750, active in the 1790's, dying in poverty in 1814. In 1793, he founded the oddly-named Pig's Meat or Lessons for the Swinish Multitude (the "swinish multitude" of the title was taken from a phrase in Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France). To advertise the virtues of Pig's Meat and his numerous other projects, Spence struck his own tokens in London. He devised a crude but effective method of gaining the attention of passersby: every so often, he would throw a newly-minted token out of the window and onto the street. Pig's Meat was a libelous periodical, savagely attacking Church and State alike. Spence was arrested for his activities; upon his release, he issued another token, commemorating his sufferings in jail. Many of his ideas, found offensively radical by authorities in the 1790's, seem commonplace today. They included public libraries, nationalization of land, reformed spelling, and free schools under local control. But in the nervous days of the mid-1790's, when an invasion from radical France was expected hourly, these and Spence's other ideas worried many people in government and out. Spence also has an importance for the token field beyond his products: in 1795, he published the second book on tokens ever written, the excessively rare Coin Collector's Companion.
One final group of tokens flourished during the late years of the eighteenth century. These were the pieces struck for general circulation, and they occupied the gray area between tokens of legitimate businesses and counterfeits. They were almost always much lighter in weight than orthodox tradesmen's tokens, bore no information as to place of payment (or if they did, the places indicated bore no relation to reality; many simply confidently stated that they were "current everywhere"), and were usually fairly crudely executed. The great majority of them were manufactured in the back alleys of Birmingham.
Pieces for general circulation were usually intended to pass as halfpennies although a goodly number of farthing-size coppers were also minted. The North Wales farthing of 1793 is fairly typical of the members of the entire series. Once struck, these tokens were sold on the cheap to any merchant who would have them. In time, new varieties were added to this group as well, for the delectation of collectors.
In 1797, the decade-long agitation for a regal copper coinage finally bore fruit. Alarmed at the growing number of tokens in circulation, Parliament proclaimed a new issue of copper penny and twopenny pieces, to be struck by Boulton & Watt of Soho, Birmingham. They would be heavy coins, whose intrinsic values would be as close to their official ones as possible, given manufacturing costs and usage preferences. In this way, Matthew Boulton expected to render counterfeiting of this new coins unprofitable. Just to be on the safe side, Parliament also made the manufacture or issue of any further tokens illegal. Boulton (who undoubtedly had a say in this part of the legislation) must have a clear field in which to circulate his new coins.
By and large, the prohibitory portion of the Act was observed, and token production descended from a flood to a trickle after 1797. But within a few years, it would begin all over again.
Nineteenth Century Tokens
The causes of the resumption of copper token coinage in the early years of the nineteenth century are complex. Certainly, public concern over the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars (whose course reached a climax of intensity after 1810) played a part, for it encouraged a hoarding of all coinage, copper included. But there was more to it than that. Industrial production related to the war effort also reached a crescendo during these years, which naturally meant that an increasing number of coins would be required for wages. Under ordinary circumstances, the excellent pieces supplied by Boulton & Watt between 1797 and 1807 should have been adequate to the demand. Unfortunately, the price of copper began to rise at the turn of the century. This had the effect of removing the heavy Boulton & Watt regal issues of 1797 and 1799 from circulation. The massive Parys Mine tokens likewise disappeared - it had become profitable to melt down all these pieces for scrap. The later, somewhat lighter regal issues of 1806-1807 were not so affected (indeed, their lighter weight was a reflection of the rise in copper prices just mentioned), but they were not in themselves adequate to meet the burgeoning needs of the period.
Naturally, the advance in copper's value led to heavy production of the metal in Cornwall and elsewhere. By around 1810, the metal's value had begun to fall, due to overproduction. Metal companies found themselves the holders of large stocks of suddenly unwanted copper. Of course, there was still a shortage of copper in one area, that of monetary circulation. The obvious solution to both problems was to strike copper tokens.
Production of this last series of private, base-metal coinage began in 1811, and it reached its peak in the following year. It fell off drastically after 1813, the reflection of a depression in trade which set in at that time, evidence also that the market for tokens had reached a point of saturation. In considering the rapidity at which such a point was reached, we must always bear in mind the fact that most of the nineteenth-century coppers were struck by steam power. This robbed them of the "hand-made" charm of their predecessors, but is also meant that it would be possible to solve a coinage shortage in 1810 far more rapidly than it had been in 1790. The appearance of large numbers of lightweight counterfeits and pieces for general circulation also dampened the public's enthusiasm for copper tokens.
In general, these pieces are not as artistic as their eighteenth-century counterparts. But what they lack in beauty they partially redeem in historic immediacy, for many, products of the large industrial and mining concerns of the day, depict the actual machinery and labor performed in their trades. Those interested in industrial history and archaeology are thus granted glimpses into a past which might otherwise be denied them.
Iron foundries, enterprises at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, are seen on I. Bunn & Company's 1812 penny from Godalming, Surrey, and on penny and twopenny pieces ordered by Samuel Fereday for his Priestfield Furnaces, near Bilston, Staffordshire. Fereday's operation was enormous, over five thousand workers being employed there at the time these tokens were struck. To pay them, the Fereday tokens had to be manufactured in very large numbers: their maker recalled that every fortnight, Fereday sent a carriage to collect them.
If ironworks formed a prominent type on nineteenth-century tokens, so did the secondary industries related to them. One of the best views of an early industrial plant which we shall ever see is displayed on a series of penny tokens issued by the Withymoor Scythe Works, located in the Staffordshire town of that name, in 1813 and 1814. The obverses of these pieces depict the forging operation, in such minute detail that we are able to conclude that the steam engine powering things was one of the Watt rotative types with a sun-and-planet gear arrangement. Typical products of the firm grace the reverse. Other businesses turning iron into secondary products also received their due on the tokens of these years, including several weapons manufacturers.
Naturally, other metal trades were also represented on these commercial coins. J.K. Picard's 1812 penny deserves mention: Picard was one of the giants in the lead industry, and he produced an entire series of tokens celebrating that fact, many of which showed the facade of his factory, located at Kingston-upon-Hull. And the copper trade was very widely represented on nineteenth-century coppers: the 1811 Tavistock penny is a splendid example of an actual industrial scene, again featuring a steam engine and the other machinery of a typical copper mine of the day. The issuer's name is unknown. The Scorrier House penny from Cornwall, also dating from 1811, gives recognition to three prominent local industries, copper, tin, and fishing, incorporating these elements on its reverse. Its obverse displays another typical mining scene, with a pumping engine and a winding machine near the entrance to a copper mine. Note that the winding gear is of the old, pre-industrial type, as indicated by the horse's harness hanging from the wheel. This serves to remind us that the Industrial Revolution did not transform everything overnight, that the old ways might well persist into the new era.
The fuel which powered all of the new machinery was coal. It thus comes as no surprise to find that we have an issue from at least one colliery, the Bewicke Main operation near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The obverse of its 1811 penny token depicts a typical coal transporter, known as a Geordie brig, alongside a coaling staith.
Textile manufacturing is also represented on nineteenth-century coppers - not to the degree that one might expect, but fairly prominently all the same. The woolen and worsted industries are recalled on an 1811 penny from Norwich and an undated piece from Lichfield, Staffordshire, respectively. The Lichfield token was massive, a twopenny one. A second Norwich textile manufacturer, Robert Blake, specialized in cotton and bombazine. His rather scarce twopenny features the Norwich arms on the obverse, a shuttle on the reverse, as an indication of his trade. The Blake piece was probably struck in 1811, although it does not bear a date.
As all the foregoing might indicate, ordinary merchants are not represented on nineteenth-century tokens to the degree that they had been on earlier ones. All the same, some did issue copper tokens. In 1812, Wilson Bragg of Whitehaven, Cumberland produced a farthing token for the customers of his grocery store. In the following year, a similar issue was circulated by another grocer, one W. Curtis of Chatteris, Cambridgeshire. Several other grocers had farthings struck for their customers' convenience, a fact perhaps explained by the price of tobacco in those days, one and three-quarters pence an ounce. Booksellers are also represented, the Stockton, Durham concern of Christopher & Jennet issuing a handsome penny, whose use of incused lettering within solid borders reminds us of the Cartwheel issue of 1797. Other professions represented on nineteenth-century copper tokens include those of draper, mercer, and even pawnbroker.
While the great majority of nineteenth-century coppers were placed in circulation by private authorities, a fair number were also issued by towns and cities, usually for the relief of the deserving poor. There were tokens which were products of the notorious workhouses of the period, as well as others from the lesser-known Houses of Industry. Beyond whatever they might say about social conditions of the time, these tokens often present us with views of the edifices which issued them, buildings which have long since been altered out of all recognition or pulled down.
The penny token of the Birmingham workhouse illustrates this point. Issued in 1812 and 1813, the workhouse depicted on the obverse was at the time one of only two public buildings in the entire city, the other one being the prison. The reverses of these penny tokens employed the arms of the city as their central type. The workhouse directors also issued a copper threepenny token in 1813, the heaviest nineteenth-century token to enter circulation.
The Worcester penny of 1811 stands as an example of a House of Industry, rather than a workhouse, token. Houses of Industry were intended as charitable training centers for the young, while workhouses were mainly intended for the able-bodied adult and indigent aged members of the community. Not all of these tokens were as elaborate as the Birmingham and Worcester pieces: the Yorkshire town of Bradford provided for the monetary needs of the inmates of its workhouse by simply overstriking other people's penny tokens with the words Bradford Workhouse. The Crown recognized the usefulness of this branch of nineteenth-century token issues. While the 1817 Act of Parliament banned copper tokens on and after 1 January 1818, specific exceptions were made for the workhouses of Birmingham and Sheffield, whose tokens were allowed to stay in circulation until 1820 and 1823, respectively. Referring to the Sheffield pieces, the Act observed that suppressing them immediately:
would be attended with great Loss to the said Township... and to the Holders thereof, who are for the most part Labourers and Mechanics [factory workers], as well as with great Inconvenience to the Inhabitants.
As time passed, counterfeit copper tokens began to appear in increasing numbers, just as had been the case in the eighteenth century. Many of them purported to be the products of copper companies, probably because such firms were known to be issuing legitimate tokens in large quantities. The spurious tokens, purportedly the products of fictitious firms, must have occasioned a great deal of confusion at the time, for they tended to be fairly well made, if somewhat lightweight. The fakes are still confusing to present day collectors, and it may be useful to note that pieces from the Birmingham & Sheffield, Birmingham & South Wales, Birmingham & Warwickshire, and Flint Copper Companies are all counterfeits, while pieces from the Rose Copper Company of Birmingham and Swansea, and those of the Bristol Brass & Copper Company, located in the town of that name, are genuine. The fakes tended to be struck and circulated as penny tokens. There was a second, related series, whose members were mainly intended to serve as halfpennies, very similar to the lightweight pieces issued "for general circulation" back in the 1790's. These latter coppers very often bore patriotic types and legends, and some of them later crossed the Atlantic, turning up in circulation in the United States and Canada. These spurious pennies and halfpennies alike gave powerful impetus to a growing public outcry, a demand that all copper tokens be banned, and that the Royal Mint make a sincere attempt to provide the inhabitants of the realm with decent regal issues. This movement finally bore fruit after 1820.
Many things distinguish the token issues of the nineteenth century from those of earlier days. The issuers had shifted from merchants to manufacturers, and, partially as a consequence, the majority of the new issues come from a fairly limited number of places, those industrial zones in existence by 1810. The size of the average copper token had expanded, the quality of execution (if not the artistry) improved. But the most obvious difference between this token series and the two earlier ones is that the members of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century groups had all been struck in base metals. Those of the nineteenth century were also struck in silver, and very occasionally in gold.
The majority of such issues date from the years 1811 and 1812, and they were brought about by some of the things we have already examined as a background to the copper issues. The Royal Mint provided the country with minuscule amounts of silver coinage (Dalton estimates a total government silver issue of just £68,609 for the entire period between 1760 and 1816; the last silver coinage at the Royal Mint had taken place back in 1787); this was at a time when the full-formed Industrial Revolution was attracting thousands of would-be wage earners each year. It is also probable that some of the scant supply of precious-metal coinage left circulation each year, hoarded by those who feared for the future if the country were defeated in the Napoleonic Wars.
In defense of the Royal Mint, it must be admitted that its machinery was in such wretched condition that it would scarcely have been able to provide the nation with adequate coinage even had it so desired. That was why it had turned to Matthew Boulton for its copper coinage in 1797 and subsequent years. It was to resort to his firm for silver coinage as well.
Or rather, silver tokens. At the turn of the century, Boulton was empowered to countermark almost four million Pieces of Eight, which would henceforth circulate at a rate of four shillings ninepence each. The countermarks employed were small ones, however, quite easy to counterfeit. This led to a much more ambitious scheme in and after 1804. Boulton was to plane down the Pieces of Eight and completely overstrike them with new obverse and reverse designs, creating "Bank of England dollars," whose stated value would be five shillings each. Additional Bank of England tokens, struck on new planchets in denominations of one shilling sixpence and three shillings, came into being in 1811, struck until 1816.
They were joined by hundreds of local silver tokens, issued in denominations ranging from sixpence to five shillings. Many were circulated by counties or towns, as was the Hampshire token of 1811. Others were the products of banks or individuals in business: a nicely-executed Douglas Bank token of 1811 was intended for use on the Isle of Man, while the odd Whitchurch and Dore four shilling piece was the creation of two merchants in Bath, Samuel Whitchurch, an ironmonger, and William Dore, a hatter. It, too, was struck in 1812. These unofficial silver coins weighed less than official coinage. But considering the fact that there was no official coinage, they were obviously an improvement on things.
They were joined by a few tokens in gold. The forty shilling piece of Reading, Berkshire, was almost certainly intended for presentation purposes, but a well-worn half guinea from Sheffield, recently acquired by the American Numismatic Society, saw wide circulation. Both of these tokens date from 1812.
By that year, Parliament and Crown alike were beginning to take notice of what was in fact an illegal coinage. On 29 July 1812, Parliament passed an Act to prevent the issue and circulation of gold and silver tokens (and those of other Metal, which meant copper: this part of the legislation appears to have been ignored at the outset). Issues of the Bank of England were exempted by name, as were those of the Bank of Ireland, whose token issues generally paralelled those of the English institution. In addition to the above loophole, the date for putting the Act into full execution was postponed: the Royal Mint might be able to meet its traditional coinage responsibilities with Boulton's new machinery, but the machinery was not operable just yet.
But most of it was usable by 1816, and the first regal issues of the refurbished Royal Mint appeared that year. By the next, the Royal Mint was capable of full-scale production, and the government felt itself in a sufficiently strong position to restate its case. On 27 July of that year, an Act of Parliament prohibited copper and other tokens, declaring them illegal after 1 January of the following year. As we have seen, exceptions were made for the coppers of the Birmingham and Sheffield workhouses. But no exceptions whatsoever were made for precious-metal tokens.
Not that they were needed any longer. The Royal Mint made a sincere effort to keep its part of the bargain, and the country soon had enough silver and gold coins to meet its needs. Copper issues followed in 1821, and the last of the three great periods of British token coinage came to an end. A fourth has never been necessary.