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Traders' Tokens

Most collections of coins, however small, contain some few examples of the two series of tokens known as those of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries.

We do not quite understand, in the present day, what it was to have a scarcity of copper coinage. There was a prejudice against the issue of coins in any baser metal than silver, and sovereigns, down to Stuart times, objected to such issue. It is true that Elizabeth issued some patterns for a legal coinage in copper, but the matter went no further, and no current coins were ever issued by that great Queen in baser metals. She did grant permission to the City of Bristol to strike some tokens to be current in that city and ten miles round, and this was towards the close of the sixteenth century, and these very rough Elizabethan tokens with C.B. on the obverse (Civitas Bristol) are occasionally to be found.

The Commonwealth Government contemplated a copper coinage, and struck patterns, both in copper and pewter, but no authorised issue ever took place, and it was not until 1613 that a copper farthing appeared, when a patent was given to Lord Harington of Exton for the issue of copper tokens of that denomination. These Harington farthings, however, were hated by the people, they were so thin and poor, and of such small intrinsic value.

Meantime, it was very difficult to purchase small things. There was hardly any small currency, and the silver coin became more and more minute in size, and therefore more and more inconvenient, so, in the seventeenth century, the people took the matter into their own hands, rejected the Harington farthings, and struck local tokens for themselves, each little town or village having persons in it who issued their own token, and the traders had to keep boxes with divisions in them, into which to sort these little tokens. They passed from hand to hand freely, where the issuers were known or the respective corporations were accepted, and then they were put down by Act of Parliament in 1672, and the order was more or less obeyed, although Chester and Norwich issued these tokens till 1674, and they were issued in Ireland until 1679.

The other series, a hundred years later, came into force for much the same reason-scarcity of copper coinage and strenuous objection to the poor coinage that was current. This latter series comprised larger pieces, the tokens are about the size of a halfpenny, whereas the seventeenth century ones were much smaller, the halfpenny being about the size of our farthing, and the farthing smaller still. The eighteenth century tokens only lasted for a few years, the Anglesey Mines halfpenny being the first that was struck, and that was followed by many others, some of them quite beautiful in their devices and designs, some issued by corporations and some by private individuals, and the latter formed advertisements which passed readily from hand to hand.

The seventeenth century ones are, however, the more important from the historical point of view, and many of them were issued. There was a book written all about them by William Boyne, in 1859, and it fell to my lot, some thirty years later, to issue a new edition, with the assistance of collectors all over England, and to very considerably more than double its original size, describing in all thirteen thousand tokens. I can claim, therefore, to have some interest in these little coins. They were not always circular; some of them are heart-shaped, diamond-shaped, octagonal, or square, these, of course, being the rarer pieces; and, of the circular pieces, the halfpennies, as a rule, are more scarce than the farthings. Several of them bear interesting references to local trades--lace appearing on Buckinghamshire tokens, and wool on those of Surrey; gloves in Leicester and needles in Chichester lace at St. Neot's and the curious yellowish bands or stocks appear on the Sherborne tokens, the place where they were made; while a particular kind of fine serge, called "bay" or "say," is alluded to on the Colchester tokens. On the tokens of Ashburton we get the teazle, an allusion to the process of preparing the cloth carried on in that district and to the cultivation of the teazle plant.

Armorial bearings are on many of the tokens, and it is curious that, amongst the Cornish tokens, more than a fourth have armorial bearings, showing the extent to which the old Cornish families engaged in local commerce. The arms of all the trading companies are to be found, as well as those of lesser-known companies, such as the Merchants of the Staple, the Merchants Adventurers, the Tollmen, of Stilton and Doncaster, the Shearmen, and many others. Local officials are commemorated on them; sometimes it is the Portreeve, the Mayor, the Swordbearer, the Bailiffs; the High Bailiff, the Constable, the Overseers, or the Aldermen; and on many of the tokens appear statements showing their original purpose. "For the Poor," "For the Poor's Advantage," "The Poor's Halfpenny," "Remember the Poor," "Change and Charity," "To be Changed for the Poor," or even, in rhyming form :

"When you please I'll change these."

In many cases, the issuer joined to his initials the initial of his wife. In some cases, if he had been married twice, he put both wives' initials. In frequent instances, he gave the sign under which his shop was known, or some representation of his trade-a butcher having a knife and chopper, a tallow chandler a candle ; other people rolls of bread, flowers, bottles, woolpacks, men making candles, and similar emblems.

We get a good deal of information about the inns of the time from these tokens, and their names, especially those of London; the "Boar's Head" at Eastcheap, for instance, a house referred to by Shakespeare, and the "Devil and Dunstan" at Temple Bar, and the "Cock" in Fleet Street; while some of the country posting-houses mentioned on them are even now important houses of call, as, for instance, the "Anchor" at Liphook, the "Fountain" at Portsmouth, the "White Hart" at Harford Bridge, and the "Phoenix" at Harley Row.

This issue of these small tokens soon drove out of existence the thin, breakable Harington regal farthings, which only weighed six grains apiece, and, although quite a large fortune was made by the Harington family out of the patent granted in 1613, yet the Haringtons were execrated by the people for forcing the coins upon them. The issuers of these tokens were often important people in the districts; the Howells were notable people in Lynn; the Owners were the people who established a children's hospital in Yarmouth, and members of the same family opposed ship money: One Brighton issuer was the original tenant of the old Ship Inn, and another married the captain of the vessel in which King Charles escaped from England; while an issuer named Treagle, at Taunton, was one of the earliest booksellers in Somerset, and the man who issued a Civil War publication called "Man's Wrath and God's Praise." One issuer at Kendal was the inventor of a green woolen material called "Kendal green," which both Shakespeare and Dryden refer to. A bookseller in Marlborough called Hammond issued his token with a book upon it, and there is a touching reference in the town records to him: "The Royalists took Marlborough in 1642, and for 3 hours fed a fire with Hammond's books," and poor Hammond himself has left a record in his own handwriting: " I have but little left ; I have saved not above eight pounds' worth of all my goods and books; my children are crying to go home, and I tell them we have no home to go to. God help me, what am I to do?" I wonder why it is, by the way, that not a single token-issuer in Wells (and there were many of them), put his wife's initials on the token. Were all the leading traders in that city bachelors?

The eighteenth century tokens are easier to collect; they are much more often to be found, and to the general public they are more attractive, because of their size and their decorative value. Many of them commemorate historic events, or events of local importance, the establishment of a great bookseller's shop in the place, the success of a shipping adventure, the encouragement of a young man who showed great genius in Birmingham, the foundation of a hospital in 1728, the establishment of a new distillery, the work of a new die engraver or medalist, the advertisement of a man who called himself a posture master, of another who was noted for cheap haberdashery and tailor's trimmings, of one who issued a Court Gazette, and of another who recommended some special lozenges which he had invented, girls making lace, men making fishing rods, people drinking coffee at a newly established coffee-house, the sale of tea at a price lower than most people had bought it before, the picking of hops, the soling of boots, the boring of wells, the making of windlasses and cog-wheels and ropes, and string, and windmills, the existence of important old castles, such as those at Kendal, Bolton, Guildford and Bowes; Abbey Churches at Bath, Coventry, Crewkerne are also commemorated, and the mining industry is referred to frequently. The standard book about them is that written by Batty, which describes about fifteen thousand.

There are no very great prizes to be obtained in either series, the tokens of unusual shape in the seventeenth century, and those issued in the northern counties being rarer than others, whilst there is always a demand amongst collectors for really fine sharp specimens of the eighteenth century, but they are comparatively easy things to obtain, and interesting to collect, and there is a great deal of historic information to be gleaned from them.