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Provincial token coins were produced in three main waves, during the 17th Century from 1648-1670, the late 18th Century (1787-1797) and early in the 19th Century, circa 1810-1812. In each case the cause was the same - a dearth of officially produced coins.

From Anglo-Saxon times to the reign of Elizabeth I the main coinage was in silver, with gold denominations appearing in the mid-14th Century during the reign of Edward III. Initially the lowest unit was the silver penny, which represented a much larger sum than was convenient for small purchases. This was only possible while transactions at the lower end of the scale were conducted on a barter system. The transition to a money-based economy from the 13th Century onwards, the same movement that had brought about the need for the higher denominations, also required smaller denominations to effect trade at the lower end of the scale. Accordingly silver halfpennies and farthings were introduced as part of the coinage reforms of Edward I. Previously they had been made by cutting pennies into two or four pieces.

By the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) the size of these two small denominations has shrunk to where it was no longer practical to produce the farthing and it was discontinued. A limited number of halfpennies were produced during the last 20 years of Elizabeth I, but only after an absence of some thirty years. By the beginning of the 17th Century this void was being filled by many privately produced and illegal tokens, mostly of lead.

Enlarge FrontEnlarge Reverse side
Halfpenny issued by Tho(mas) Prettyman
of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, 1667

17th Century Tokens (1648-1670)

James I ordered the production of copper farthings under a licence granted to Lord Harrington, a practice continued by Charles I with first the Duchess of Richmond and then Lord Maltravers. This method was chosen because it was not thought proper for the king to lower himself by issuing copper coins. By the time of the Civil War these licences had expired and the supply ceased. From 1648 to 1670 the need for small change was met by a huge number of copper and brass halfpenny and farthing tokens issued primarily, but not entirely, in the London and the Home Counties in which traders from many towns and villages participated.

These tokens stated the name of the tradesperson who issued the coin, mostly men but some women, and also gave the name of the city, town or village where they resided. In major cities such as London more details of the actual address were given so as to identify the individual. In addition many bear monograms and designs which showed the type of business. These designs might include the names of inns and taverns, coats of arms and other devices such as candles, woolpack etc. In some cases the business is specifically stated. Many of the coins are dated and it is thought that those without dates mostly came from the early period.

The weights of these tokens varied. Most were thin and on a small flan, and their intrinsic value was far below the nominal value assigned to them. Consequently the opportunity for fraud and illicit profit was great and many of these tokens were faked. Obviously this situated could not be tolerated for long and in 1672 Charles II began to issue officially minted copper halfpence and farthings and the use of tokens were banned.

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Visit the new versions of these pages at Provincial Token Coins and The Coinage of Britian by Ken Elks

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This page captured: August 2002, revised 2010