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The obverse of an ‘Iron Mad’ Wilkinson token

These pages last included a piece on jettons and trade tokens two years ago (16 August 2016*) when a group of Volunteers visited the Somerset Heritage Centre for training on these.

More training took place this week and further interesting material came to light.

In Medieval times monasteries issued tokens to pay for services from outsiders. These tokens circulated in nearby villages where they were called “Abbot’s money.” 

From the 17th to the early 19th century tokens were commonly issued by merchants in times of shortage of coins of the state (for example, during the Civil War of the 1640s when production stalled) to allow day-to-day trading to continue. 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. Interesting research is taking place at the moment to establish just how widely…

In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, factory owners sometimes paid their workers with tokens which could only be redeemed in the factory shop where there might be limited choice and substandard goods, thus ensuring profit all round for the boss! These tokens would churn about only amongst the workers in a particular town, perhaps limited to just a few streets, but could pass as coinage between the families involved.

At a time when ‘proper’ coins were still made of silver or gold, these tokens were of copper alloy, sometimes lead, presaging a time when our small change would be made of the same sort of metal. As time went by, tokens were usually the same size as farthings, halfpennies or pennies, and used as such when it suited people.

There were further shortages in the eighteenth century when production of coins almost ceased. New, machine-made tokens began to appear, and were used for advertising, for ‘spreading the word’ (religious and political versions are known) and, even then, for collectors.

Seventeenth century tokens (the ‘golden age’) often bore the arms of the merchant guilds associated with the issuer.


Salisbury Museum – photo prepared for PAS.

The obverse (‘head’) of this token shows a central shield with the Mercer’s Maiden, the coat of arms and symbol of the Mercer’s Company City of London, with HENRY LAMBERT around the edge.

The reverse (‘tails’) shows L above HS with three rosettes surrounding, all within a border and probably CHIPPENHAM MERCER around the edge. The L will be Henry’s surname initial, the H his first name and S probably his wife’s initial. This was the usual layout for trade tokens at this time, though they often had dates which this one does not. Archaeologists are pleased to find tokens when excavating because they help date other materials in the same way as a coin does. It is interesting that it was usual for the wife’s initials to be included. The lady of the house did not always get due recognition in those days!


Salisbury Museum – photo prepared for PAS.

A copper alloy post-medieval 17th century farthing token of the City of Bath. Obverse depicts a shield with the Arms of Bath, the reverse  A BATHE FARTHINGE, with the initials C B and the date 1670. Once local authorities began issuing tokens they really did take on the mantle of coinage as they could be used almost anywhere in the town and its environs. This one was found near Bradford on Avon.

Not all of these tokens were circular… This is a copper alloy 17th Century octagonal trade token depicting a castle (potentially Castle Combe) and the obverse with initials W A. dating to c. AD 1660 – 1670.


Salisbury Museum – photo prepared for PAS

It is an area which is endlessly fascinating – for archaeologists, numismatists, local and family historians, and collectors. If we have any enthusiasts out there who can tell us more, please do!

As one of the leaders of the training session remarked – this is one way we know who was in the High Street of any small town in the 17th century.

*You  can search for earlier items of interest by using the ‘search’ box at the top of the Volunteer Blog page and entering a key word.