PAS Volunteer Andy Benbow helps in the South and West Yorkshire office as one of the SWYOR volunteers. He found identifying the seventeenth century trade token recorded as SWYOR-93C56E fascinating, and in this blog, he explains what he discovered about tokens.
The Token Correspondence Society states that,” A token refers to a coin or similar object issued for use in place of regular or official coinage.” Various types of tokens have been issued from the Roman period onwards. Along with a range of other coin-like objects, that encompass tokens, tickets, passes, jettons, historic medals and medallions, these objects are known collectively as “Paranumismatica”.
They go on to state that seventeenth century trade tokens are the most widely loved of all British tokens due to their personal nature and diverse range of subjects; they are individual and identifiable. They relate to ordinary people who often can be identified, in parish registers (as in the case of this token) and local documents of the time. The tokens are generally small denomination pieces in various alloys of copper or brass struck between 1648 and 1672. The authorities semi-officially tolerated the pieces when the official small change in circulation was inadequate.
The beginning of trade tokens was stimulated by the death of Charles I in January 1648 and the public dislike of the insufficient numbers and inferior low denomination coinage in circulation from 1613 to 1648. Issues began initially in the Home Counties, spreading across Southern, Eastern England and the Midlands. In Wales and the North, the rollout was slower and did not start before 1656 or later. In Scotland, however, the official coinage was deemed sufficient in both numbers and quality, and tokens were not issued.
The demise of the unofficial coinage was in response to an official edict issued in 1672 along with the introduction of an official robust royal copper coinage in enough numbers, causing the end of the unofficial privately issued coinage in England and Wales. In Ireland, similar tokens were also issued, mainly the penny rather than the farthing or halfpenny, but official coinage did not reach Ireland until 1680 meaning that tokens remained in circulation after their use ended in England, despite official discouragement.
The Token Correspondence Society observe that there are 14,000 different known types of token. They are predominantly round, but other shapes such as heart, octagonal and irregular shaped tokens exist. The colour varies due to the alloy used, which is dependent upon the materials available. The quality was wide and varied as there was no uniform standard, with the main criteria being, “What the public would accept and the whim of the commissioner of the token.”
My interest in trade tokens was sparked when a token from this period was handed in at a PAS Finds Surgery for recording on the PAS database (database number SWYOR-93C56E). It was pretty badly corroded, and only a few letters were visible, tantalising us with the hope that it could be identified. The most useful feature was that it said “THEIR HALF PENY” across the reverse, indicating that it was issued by two people. It is more usual for tokens to declare themselves to be HIS or HER half penny. This helped narrow it down, and after a lot of internet searching, I was able to discover that it was a token issued by Phineas Lambe and Thomas Hardwicke, dated 1666.
The token can be described as:
Obverse: *PH[INEAS] L[AM]BE.1666. Lion couchant within a pelleted border
Reverse: *THOMAS HARDWICK[E]. Within a border of pellets, THEIR HALF PENY in three lines above a central cross of pellets with a pellet either side.
This identification was confirmed by the Finds Liaison Officer in Williamson (1967) Volume 3, which lists the token as “Williamson Uncertain 49”. The Uncertain class is so-called because the town of issue is unknown, either due to unfortunately placed corrosion, or because the placename is omitted from the legend, as in this example. Individual tokens usually state the name and place of the issuer(s) along with their business on one side. The subject on the opposite side usually depicted the trade of the issuer. The symbols used had to cater to what was a predominantly illiterate society. Unfortunately, at this point it has not been possible to identify the business of Phineas Lambe and Thomas Hardwick nor the significance of a couchant lion on their coin.
Robert Thompson in The Yorkshire Numismatist suggests that double named tokens were common in the Selby area of Yorkshire. He could not attribute this token to the Selby area but he goes on to describe research that proves a strong family link with both men to St Peter’s Church, Leeds, discovered during his work on a similar item found in Driffield, East Yorkshire. Robert Thompson cautions that the better option is to confirm the town of issue by the legend on the token or by other means than genealogical pathways which he likens to a ‘lucky dip’. However, he concedes that the two names, (one of them rare) are enough to attribute the token to Leeds in this instance. He used the classification, “Williamson Uncertain 49” for his similar piece, consequently assisting and supporting the identification of this token (SWYOR-93C56E). Other examples found also accept this hypothesis and the recording of SWYOR-93C56E strengthens the case further. It was found only about 15km from Leeds, just over the county border in North Yorkshire, and these tokens are not thought to commonly circulate far from their place of issue.
It is believed by the Token Correspondence Society that most tokens were made by central manufacturers whose salesmen travelled around getting orders and arranging deliveries. They go on to speculate that the only positively identified producer is David Ramage and argue that he was the largest manufacturer. They imply that he resorted to malpractice to preserve his position in the industry. Some of his pieces carry a “R” to indicate their origin and link to him. They suggest (alas without positive proof) that the small marks, stars, flowers, diamonds and pellets on tokens could be indications of provenance rather than decoration.
From my point of view, the enjoyable part of working on this item was to formulate a strategy to successfully identify the token. There are no other tokens of this type on the PAS database to draw comparisons with and the corrosion on the flan caused significant gaps in the readable text, thus generating the need to look for other sources. My strategy of searching for the partial text on the internet was successful, opening the lettering on the flan to interpretation and eventually giving a location for the issue. The similar token described by Thompson proved to be the key to this process. One regret is that it has so far been impossible to research Phineas Lambe and Thomas Hardwick further, or to find the reason for their choice of the couchant lion on their token. The background provided by the Token Correspondence Society was enlightening, giving me an insight into a topic that was new to me. Hopefully my summary in this blog gives reasons for the concept, history and use of trade tokens in general and inspires others to develop an interest in them.
The supporting evidence I used included:
- TRADE TOKENS ISSUED IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY IN ENGLAND WALES AND IRELAND Etc; George C Williamson; (1991) vol 3; Yorkshire
- Re-attributions of Seventeenth Century Tokens; Robert H Thompson; Yorkshire Numismatist, vol 3, page 108 (on line at https://archive.org/details/YorkshireNumismatistVol3/page/n59) for the case for assigning this token to Leeds, West Riding, Yorkshire.
- The Token Society (online at https://www.thetokensociety.org.uk)
- The Dixon, Noon and Webb Auction Site (https://www.dnw.co.uk/auction-archive/past-catalogues/lot.php?auction_id=469&lot_uid=300763) for visual comparison to another token of the same issue.