Find In Focus: Post-Medieval silver hawking vervel

This silver Post-Medieval hawking vervel was reported as Treasure in 2012 after being discovered by a metal detectorist near Sutton upon Derwent in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

YORYM-7576F7

Hawking was a favourite form of hunting for centuries in England and was at its most popular in the seventeenth century. Trained birds of prey were used to catch animals such as hares and, as these birds were prestigious and expensive, their owners fitted them with vervels. Vervels were small rings attached to the leg straps and leash of the bird. The leash, when held in the hand, enabled the bird to be trained in short distance flight. It could also be used to fix the bird to its block or perch.

A peregrine falcon, a bird used for hawking, perched
on the falconer’s hand. The jesses (the leather straps attached
to the bird’s legs) are just visible. Vervels would have been
attached to these. (Chris Downes)

Vervels gave the owner’s name, residence or coat of arms, allowing lost birds to be identified and returned. Arms were especially useful, as not everyone could read. 

This example of a hawking vervel comprises a circular ring inscribed with the name *F. VAGHAN and a shield shaped plaque soldered onto the external surface. The plaque bears a crest depicting of a male head with a snake wrapped around his throat.

This crest is thought to be attributed to the Vaughn family who had branches in East Yorkshire and Herefordshire though their family seat was at Tretower near Crickhowell, Wales. The Vaughan family crest depicted the heads of three boys with snakes around their necks. This motif derived from a story concerning their ancestor Moreiddig Warwyn, who was belived to have been born with a snake around his neck.

A close up of the crest

While this object was found in East Yorkshire, the Herefordshire branch of the Vaughn family were based at Hergest Court, which was allegedly the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles.

An object featuring the same design was found in Baffins, Porthsmouth in 2018 (ref: HAMP-D99A92). Made of copper-alloy and decorated with enamel, this object was originally thought to be Roman though further research showed the potential connection to this vervel, suggesting a much later date. The type of object however remains a mystery.

HAMP-D99A92

Similar heraldic vervels have been reported as Treasure from around England, including DUR-775EF0 from Hutton Conyers, North Yorkshire, depicting a stylised horse’s head and an inscription naming a member of a local family, Sir William Mallory.

Examples made of silver illustrate the development of hawking as an aristocratic pastime in the seventeenth century.

Hawking vervels made of silver are prestigious objects which provide personalised evidence of wealthy families and illustrate the development of hawking as an aristocratic pastime in the seventeenth century.

A Seventeenth Century Trade Token from Leeds

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.

Augmented sketch of trade token SWYOR-93C56E
Augmented sketch combining the visible features of several examples of this trade token. Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY licence

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.

A range of Post-medieval trade tokens recorded by PAS: 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

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.

Trade token SWYOR-93C56E, the poorly preserved example that provided the inspiration for this blog. Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service; CC-BY licence)

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.

St Peter’s Church, Leeds in a drawing of 1885. The church is now Leeds Minster.
Copyright: Unknown author / Public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Peter%27s_Church_1885.jpg

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: