Trade Tokens

I have found 3 trade tokens so far, one near Church Farm and two up near the Mare Way close to the old quarry. They are curious coins for a number of reasons, firstly were deliberately produced to be used in place of coins and either have a denomination shown or implied by size, color or shape. Secondly,  Tokens can alert us to interesting historical epochs, for example, the lack of official coinage due to political or economic instability. Thirdly the key point of difference between a token and a coin is that a coin is issued by a governmental local or national authority and is freely exchangeable for goods or other coins whereas a token has a much more limited use and is often (but not always) issued by a private company, group, association or individual.

The obverses of the Trade Tokens generally carry a bust:

Trade Token Obvs I have include a 1937 One Penny piece to show the scale of the tokens, as you can tell the tokens are slightly smaller than the Penny and slightly larger than a Half Penny.

What should also be obvious is the poor preservation of the tokens, doubtless a less pure copper alloy was used to produce these and in the clay soils of these parts they do not bear up well. As for the reverses of the tokens, two of the three have a representation of Britannia, whilst the 3rd (4th from the left), has a simple laurel wreath.

The Britania Reverses of the Trade Tokens
The Britania Reverses of the Trade Tokens

It has been tricky to tie down the origin and date for the Tokens but I have managed to find out that the first is known as a Brutus Half Penny, and minted at Walthamstow in the early half of the 19th Century. I imagine the other two examples are from a simalir date, though I cannot be ceratin of their origin, both do bear a likeness to known Walthamstow tokens.

From the 17th to the early 19th century in Britain tokens were commonly issued by merchants in times of acute shortage of coins of the state to enable trading activities to proceed. The token was in effect a pledge redeemable in goods but not necessarily for currency. These tokens never received official sanction from government but were accepted and circulated quite widely.

In England the production of copper farthings was permitted by royal license in the first few decades of the 17th century, but production ceased during   Civil War and a great shortage of small change resulted. This shortage was felt more keenly because of the rapid growth of trade in the towns and cities, and this in turn prompted both local authorities and merchants to issue tokens.

These tokens were most commonly made of copper or brass but pewter, lead and occasionally leather tokens are also found. Most were not given a specific denomination and were intended to pass as farthings, but there are also a large number of halfpenny and sometimes penny tokens. Halfpenny and penny tokens usually, but not always, bear the denomination on their face.

Most such tokens indicate the name of their issuer, which might either be his or her full name or initials. Where initials were provided it was common practice to provide three, one for the surname and the other two for the first names of husband and wife. Tokens would also normally indicate the merchant establishment concerned, either by name or by picture. Most were round, but they are also found in square, heart or octagonal shapes.

Thousands of towns and merchants issued these tokens between 1648 and 1672, when official production of farthings resumed and private production was suppressed.

Another period of coin shortage occurred in the late 18th Century, when the British Royal Mint almost ceased production. Merchants once again produced tokens, but they were now machine made and typically larger than their 17th century predecessors with values of a halfpenny or more. While many were used in trade, they were also produced for advertising and political purposes, and some series were produced for the primary purpose of sale to collectors. These tokens are usually known as “Conder” tokens, after the writer of the first reference book on them.

These were issued by merchants in payment for goods with the agreement that they will be redeemed in goods to an equivalent value at the merchants own outlets. The transaction is therefore one of barter, with the tokens playing a role of convenience, allowing the seller to receive his goods at a rate and time convenient to himself and the merchant to lock the holder of the token coin to his shop. Trade tokens often change slowly and subtly into barter tokens over time, as evidence by the continued circulation of former trade tokens when the need for their use had passed.

My theory is that these tokens were utilised by the itinerant laborers employed in the quarry or the coprolite mines which proliferated in the era in the 19th century…or do you know better?


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