Tokens

Introduction

Tokens are metal discs which feature designs and often inscriptions, and which were intended for use either as symbols of receipt or debt for either goods or services, as passes, or in small transactions in times of shortage of small denominations in the currency. Being like a coin in terms of form and design, along with jettons, medals and medallions, jettons are items of ‘paranumismatica’. They are distinguished from coins by their issuers and use but also in some period by their physical properties, being made of base metals, and sometimes cast – though many tokens were also struck or milled, as with coins.

PAS object type(s) to be used

Use TOKEN

This will enable a ‘jetton/token’ data entry form once the core data form has been saved.

PAS object classification to be used

With one exception (below), leave this field blank, as with most other numismatic or paranumismatic records: relevant data can be entered in the ‘jetton/token’ form.

However, for 17th-century trade tokens use the Classification field to record the Williamson number, specifying the county, in the following format:

Williamson [county] [number] e.g. Williamson Kent 124, Williamson Somerset 45

If recorded since Williamson 1967 (1889-1891), but using his numbering system (e.g. by Dickinson 1986), then in the following format:

e.g. Williamson Dorset 65A

If it is not in Williamson or Dickinson or other county publications that follow Williamson’s numbering, then add the following:

Not in Williamson

Terms to use in the description

When recording tokens, the usual numismatic conventions and terms apply, such as writing terms out in full rather than abbreviating.  On the ‘jetton/token’ data form Obverse and Reverse Descriptions can be taken from the reference works, but do check every aspect to make sure that it applies to the token that you are recording.  If you can, add reference numbers from the main works discussed below.  On the artefact form, the opening sentence can be written in the following format:

A status/completeness/treatment (as applicable) period(s) material century (if single century) denomination/class token issued by issuer at town in county (as applicable), referencedating to [year on token (on token) or appropriate range]. Ref.: Author (year, page(s)).

Some examples of opening sentences –

A medieval to post-medieval lead Boy bishop token (penny-sized issue), Rigold Series III, ‘profile series’ dating to c. 1470-c. 1539.  Ref.: Rigold (1978, 95/pl. Xa).

A post-medieval lead biface token, Powell Type 1 depicting six-petalled flower/Type 2 depicting initials JN, dating to c. 1550-c. 1750.

A post-medieval copper-alloy 17th-century trade token farthing issued by John Grenway at Crewkerne in Somerset, Williamson Somerset 109, dating to 1648 to 1672. Ref.: Williamson (1891, 978).

A post-medieval copper-alloy 17th-century trade token halfpenny issued by Francis Woodcock at Horwood in Buckinghamshire, Williamson Buckinghamshire 75A, dating to 1656 to 1672. Not in Williamson, ref.: Dickinson (1986, 29).

To be followed by: details of any piercings including location of etc, dimensions, any other details

Date

Although some Roman leaden and copper-alloy tokens are known, the use of tokens focuses on the medieval and post-medieval periods.  In the medieval period leaden tokens were cast, and while tokens in lead continued to be used into the post-medieval period, the majority of post-medieval tokens were struck in copper alloys.

Roman tokens

Roman tokens were not widely used in the province, but some may have reached Britain in the Roman period.  Copper-alloy spintriae date to the 1st century AD and tend to depict a sexual scene on one face and a Roman numeral on the other (e.g. LON-E98F21).  Their function remains debated, due to a lack of contextual evidence.  Lead-alloy tesserae are currently the subject of a PhD by Denise Wilding and it is hoped more can be said in future.

Medieval tokens

Medieval tokens were cast leaden objects with usually bifacial decoration which tended to be used as receipts for service or goods (Mitchiner and Skinner 1983, 29).  They tend to gain prominence from c. 1200 (Mitchiner and Skinner 1983, 29), with various lead tokens found in 12th-century contexts simply blank discs, and therefore undiagnostic of date.  Many medieval tokens were issued in an ecclesiastical context, such as as alms. One well researched example being the ‘Boy Bishop’  tokens of East Anglia, which will be discussed below in this section, though extended into the post-medieval period. Within the medieval period a number of groups can be discerned.

Pictorial tokens

A group of lead-alloy tokens generally grouped under the label ‘pictorial’ are thought to date to the 13th and early 14th centuries.  They show a variety of bifacial designs, including people, animals, shields and crosses (Mitchiner and Skinner 1983, 68-75; pls 1-8).  Known mostly from urban sites, notably in London and Dublin, very few examples have been recorded by the PAS.

Geometric tokens

After a period of transition, pictorial tokens were superseded by bifacial tokens with one face having a geometric design, often a cross or multifoil (Mitchiner and Skinner 1983, 76-77; pls 9-10).  These tokens were made from lead and have been dated between c. 1350 and c. 1425 (Mitchiner and Skinner 1983, 62).  Again, these are rare on PAS outside London.

‘Cross and Pellets’ tokens

These mostly lead tokens are c. 12 mm in diameter and are characterised by having a bifacial design with a short cross potent on the reverse, with a ring and dot in each quarter; the border between an inner and outer circle is filled with oblique rays.  Various designs can be found on the obverse.  Again, these are rare on PAS outside London; published examples are known primarily from London (Mitchiner and Skinner 1984, 145-146; pls 4-5) and Salisbury (Egan in Saunders ed. 2001).

Medieval tokens in lead or lead alloy: 'Pictorial' type (left, LON-8E1413); 'Geometric' type (centre, LON-F15A334); 'Cross and Pellets' type (right, PUBLIC-9E0AD7). Copyrights: Museum of London; The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY licence)
Medieval tokens in lead or lead alloy: ‘Pictorial’ type (left, LON-8E1413); ‘Geometric’ type (centre, LON-F15A334); ‘Cross and Pellets’ type (right, PUBLIC-9E0AD7). Copyrights: Museum of London; The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY licence)

Post-medieval tokens

Post-medieval tokens are numerous and can be divided into numerous types, but also along basic lines in terms of their primary material: there is a continuation of leaden tokens, but also the introduction of copper-alloy tokens from the 16th century onwards.  In the following sub-section the lead examples will be dealt with first, before moving on to copper-alloy tokens, which are dominated by trade tokens from periods where there was a lack of small denominations in the currency.  Finally, mention will be made of other types of token, although these not tend to be recorded by the PAS due to their late date.

‘Boy Bishop’ tokens

These cast leaden tokens are a phenomenon of Suffolk (mostly) in England and of north-east France (Mitchiner and Skinner 1983, 32).  Starting in the late medieval period, they evoke St Nicholas and are thought to relate to the temporary reign of a Boy Bishop between St Nicholas’ Day and Childermas, that is, for most of December, and were distributed as alms.  Their appearance can be related to contemporary coins of the late medieval and early post-medieval periods: a larger groat-like token, a medium-sized halfgroat-like token, and a smaller penny-sized token.  Division into eleven ‘series’ by Rigold (1978 – available here) can be followed where possible.

Medieval to post-medieval 'Boy bishop' tokens: Penny-sized example (left, SF-E8C174); Groat-sized example (right, SF-D642E8). Copyright: Suffolk County Council; CC-BY licence)
Medieval to post-medieval ‘Boy Bishop’ tokens: Penny-sized example (left, SF-E8C174); Groat-sized example (right, SF-D642E8). Copyright: Suffolk County Council; CC-BY licence)

Late Elizabethan tokens

The status of a number of leaden pieces has been debated over the years: they are thought to date to the late 16th century or the years after 1600 (Mitchiner 1998, 1653).  Tokens, medalets or counters, they are recorded by North number (North 1975, 116; nos 2061-2064), although some rare types are not covered by North.

Late Elizabethan tokens: North 2062 (top left, LON-9004B5); North 2063 (top right, pending); Phoenix type, not in North (bottom left, WILT-B3FD93); North 2064 (bottom right, ESS-C49877). Copyrights: Museum of London; pending; Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; Colchester Museums; CC-BY-SA licence)
Late Elizabethan tokens: North 2062 (top left, LON-9004B5); North 2063 (top right, pending); Phoenix type, not in North (bottom left, WILT-B3FD93); North 2064 (bottom right, ESS-C49877). Copyrights: Museum of London; pending; Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; Colchester Museums; CC-BY-SA licence)

Also of the late 16th century is the so-called ‘Lyon counter‘, named after the lion on the obverse.  These are largely found in London and the South East.

Other leaden tokens

The dating of other leaden tokens can be difficult due to their often basic designs. Uniface or biface, often they will bear initials, and sometimes dates: these dated examples place them between the early 17th century and the early 19th century.  This notwithstanding, some have been published as medieval based on similarities between certain designs and those found on medieval coins.  However, we can note simple cross and pellets designs found in 17th-century contexts in London (Egan 2005, 170-171; fig. 165), suggesting that most of these tokens are of post-medieval date.  Read (2016, 139-141) illustrated a number of such tokens to which he gives a c. 18th-century date.  Try to attribute Powell types to the obverse/reverse designs (as applicable) in your description, e.g.: Powell type 2 depicting initials/Powell type 8 depicting numerals.

Post-medieval leaden tokens: With initials, Powell type 2/Powell type 8 (top left, SUSS-A218DF); With wine bottle and glass, Powell type 11 (bottom left, WILT-768805); With flower, Powell type 2 (top right, SUSS-4EB5AE); With cross and pellets, Powell type 14 (bottom right, SUSS-1BEB58). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; CC-BY licence)
Post-medieval leaden tokens: With initials, Powell type 2/Powell type 8 (top left, SUSS-A218DF); With wine bottle and glass, Powell type 11 (bottom left, WILT-768805); With flower, Powell type 2 (top right, SUSS-4EB5AE); With cross and pellets, Powell type 14 (bottom right, SUSS-1BEB58). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; CC-BY licence)

17th-century trade tokens

To deal with a lack of small denominations in the regal coinage 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.  These 17th-century trade tokens had predecessors in the Bristol copper-alloy token issue of c. 1577 to 1583.  These Bristol tokens were struck on square or nearly square flans; most 17th-century trade tokens are circular, although other shapes existed.  The main series comprised over 14,000 types and were denominated as farthings (from 1648), halfpennies (thought to be from 1656) and pennies (from 1663).  Use Williamson 1967 (1889-1891) and other resources (e.g. Thompson and Dickinson 1984-2011 – the Norweb collection) to establish a Williamson number where possible, and complete the Classification and Description fields as set out above.  Look out for triads of initials on privately-issued tokens and civic arms on tokens issued by town and city authorities.

17th-century trade tokens are currently the subject of a PhD by Laura Burnett.

Post-medieval trade tokens: Farthing token, private issue (top left, LON-FDA3BD); Halfpenny token, private issue (bottom left, LON-0958EC); Farthing token, civic issue (top right, LON-E3B1BB); Penny token, private issue, heart shaped (bottom right, NMGW-3768A7). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY licence)
Post-medieval trade tokens: Farthing token, private issue (top left, LON-FDA3BD); Halfpenny token, private issue (bottom left, LON-0958EC); Farthing token, civic issue (top right, LON-E3B1BB); Penny token, private issue, heart shaped (bottom right, NMGW-3768A7). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY licence)

Late 18th- and early 19th-century trade tokens

Tokens were again issued in the late 18th century, between 1787 and 1796, and then in the early 19th century, between 1811 and 1820 to deal with a lack of small denominations.  Both groups of issues are well made, with elaborate designs, long inscriptions and are generally dated; they are generally denominated as halfpennies and pennies.  The 18th-century group are often called ‘Conder tokens’, after James Conder a contemporary collector; they can be recorded using Dalton and Hamer (1977 (1910)).  The early 19th-century group is well surveyed by Withers and Withers (1999).

Late 18th-century 'Conder' token from Banbury (left, SUR-584F19); early 19th-century token from Redruth (right, CORN-D77C16). Copyright: Surrey County Council; Royal Institution of Cornwall; CC-BY licence)
Late 18th-century ‘Conder’ token from Banbury (left, SUR-584F19); early 19th-century token from Redruth (right, CORN-D77C16). Copyright: Surrey County Council; Royal Institution of Cornwall; CC-BY licence)

Other post-medieval and modern tokens

Other tokens include pub checks and communion tokens, for which local resources often exist.

Examples

Search for all examples of tokens

Key references

Williamson 1967 (1889-1891) – available here (Vol. 1), here (Vol. 2)

Mitchiner and Skinner 1983 – available here

Thompson and Dickinson 1984-2011