A Token Gesture – Berkshire Trade Tokens

To deal with a lack of small denominations in the regal coinage during and after the civil war, civic institutions and individual business people issued copper-alloy tokens between 1648 and 1672 (1679 in Ireland); the end date resulting from the reintroduction of farthings in copper alloy by Charles II (PAS Tokens Guide).

On the PAS database there is 124 copper-alloy tokens of Post-Medieval date and most will be of this period.

From Berkshire, the most common token is that of the Borough of Newbury. There is around 50 examples of these, with over 60% coming from West Berkshire. However, some are found in the surrounding counties and there are examples as far away as Warwickshire and the Isle of Wight.

The token consists of a obverse reading BOROVGH OF NEWBRY with a castle with three turrets. The reverse reads IN COVNTY OF BERKS, BN with 1657 in the centre.

SUR-138C84cCopyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Tokens issued by individual businesses tell us the name and sometimes the type of business. Pub/Inn tokens are pretty common and this token was issued by Reynold Thornborough, vintner of the Bull’s Head in Broad Street, Reading. Obverse: a bull’s head, *REYNOLD THORNBROVGH. Reverse: R • T, VINTNER IN READING.

SUR-53944D Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

They are not always round either. There is this heart shaped token dating to 1669 by Michael Williams of The Dyers’ Arms in Wantage. The obverse has a shield in the centre which comprises a three motifs and a chevron. Obverse: MICHAEL WILLIAMS / HIS HALFE PENY, Reverse: OF WANTINGE DIER 1669 / The Dyers’ Arms

BERK-FDE88E Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

There are tokens from Berkshire for multiple other services. This worn token of Henry Whitell of Reading, dated AD1656 depicts a dairymaid holding a plunger shaft in a churn, possibly churning butter HENRY WHITELL / [IN] READING.

OXON-8E0436 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

This farthing trade token dating to AD 1652 was issued by John Naish of Newbury, who is noted as a grocer on his token but is also recorded as churchwarden in AD 1659.

BERK-B9C7E4 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Another common business is grocers and this token was issued by grocer William Sweetaple [SIC] of Andover, Winchester in AD1655. Like any coinage, trade tokens travelled, like this one, and others from further afield have been found in Berkshire.

Trade tokens aren’t a phenomena isolated to the Civil War period, as those Roman, Medieval and Post-Civil war periods, and they could be equated with the shop vouchers we use today.

You can read our guide to tokens here as well as see more from Berkshire