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English Tokens

Symbolic coins of England

"Symbolic" coins are called, the denomination of which is much higher than the value of the metal from which they are minted. In fact, all coins of the XXI century are "symbolic", they are just banknotes. In England, such coins are called "token" that is, "sign", "emblem". To denote money, this word came into use in the 16th century.

 The first documentary references to "symbolic" coins date back to the last years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Silver at that time became very expensive, and silver coins of lower denominations became so small that the population tried not to use them, and the Crown did not seek to mint them. In search of a way out of this situation, the government proposed the issuance of a copper coin. However, the queen did not take this step, fearing to drop the authority of power. The copper coin was issued only for Ireland, which, of course, did not solve the problem. King James I was nevertheless forced to introduce a copper coin throughout the country, but sold the patent for minting to his favorite, Lord Harington. The population was reluctant to accept new coins, as Lord Harington and his followers used the right to private coinage to their own advantage, greatly underestimating the weight of the coins. However, the British were soon happy with such coins: a civil war began, and the country's monetary economy was completely upset, but the minting of private tokens flourished. The population, which for half a century was wary of all kinds of substitutes for coins of royal coinage and did not take “lightweight coins”, now not only willingly used, but also actively minted them. Only in Scotland, then still independent, tokens did not go, since the minting of the royal coin fully satisfied the needs of the population. now not only willingly used, but also actively minted them. Only in Scotland, then still independent, tokens did not go, since the minting of the royal coin fully satisfied the needs of the population. now not only willingly used, but also actively minted them. Only in Scotland, then still independent, tokens did not go, since the minting of the royal coin fully satisfied the needs of the population.

The catalog of tokens of the 17th century has about 16 thousand items. They, as a rule, were made of copper, very thin, of various shapes - from hearts to a simple circle, with inscriptions or with a simple pattern. Mostly come down to us in a state lower than VF.

After the restoration, the Crown regained its right to coinage. A large number of private coins were publicly destroyed. Only in distant, bearish corners and in Ireland, surrogate money was in circulation until the middle of the 18th century. But the tokens only “hidden” for the time being.
During the reign of King George III, in the era of the industrial revolution, there was a massive outflow of people from the village to the city, where it was necessary to buy provisions every day, and there were not enough coins to pay salaries!
Royal coinage was episodic and did not meet the needs of the economy. There were many counterfeit coins in circulation, for the minting of which the death penalty was due, but according to the law, only coins that completely repeated the royal ones were considered counterfeit. Thanks to this, an interesting phenomenon arose in England: in order to avoid the death penalty, clever swindlers made deliberately incorrect inscriptions in the legend of coins; they distorted the words, otherwise they made humorous inscriptions or inscriptions with political overtones. This group of signs was called "Evasions Tokens" - "fraudulent" tokens.

By the end of the 80s of the 18th century, the authorities were forced to introduce counterfeit and “fraudulent” tokens into circulation for local settlements, since there was simply no other money.
And in 1787, the Parys (Parys Mining Company) issued the famous "druid", a copper token - first with a denomination of one penny, then - halfpenny and farthing. Thus began the second great era of British tokens. For 10 years, a huge number of them have been released. It can be said that at that time in England there was only private money, which quickly replaced fakes, and the population hid full-fledged royal coins until better times.
Tokens of this time can be divided into groups:
1. Trading tokens (actually tokens) circulating as money and accepted as a means of payment in a certain territory or within economic entities.
2. Commemorative, representative, propaganda, educational tokens - in fact, not money, but small "medals" issued by local authorities or individuals.
3. "Speculative" tokens. They were intended for collectors as "very rare varieties" of tokens of previous groups (stamp editing, "crossovers", etc.) or for fraud purposes (fake of those times, repeating tokens of well-known and respected issuers, or fantasy tokens issued on behalf of fictitious persons).

Already by 1795, the mass of tokens had become so large that the issue of new coins consisted of only "commemorative" medals. Cases of abuse and fraud have become more frequent. This prompted the government to issue the first "real" copper coins (cartwheel penny) - solid copper money. In addition to this, the parliament adopted several acts restricting the circulation of tokens. The situation eventually stabilized. And the situation of the 17th century was repeated again - “symbolic” coins were in circulation only in remote counties and within some economic entities.

Many tokens have already settled in private collections. Simultaneously with the advent of the “druid”, a passion for collecting flared up. Interest in tokens of the 18th century on the part of collectors was constantly fueled. These tokens were even named after the collector: 18th century tokens are called "Conder tokens". James Conder was one of the most active collectors of the time and the first to produce a fairly complete catalog at the end of the 18th century. By the way, this fact explains a large number of well-preserved tokens to our time.

The issue of copper coins briefly corrected the situation. The wars with the American colonies, the hostile actions of Napoleon led to the fact that a large shortage of silver and copper formed in the country. The copper coins of subsequent issues after 1797 were much lighter in weight. The government has made several attempts to somehow improve the situation.
In 1804, the Bank of Ireland issued bank tokens (6s, 3s, 18d, 10d and 5d), and the Bank of England issued the Bank of England dollar (5s), a coinage from large Spanish silver coins. These same Spanish silver coins and the "old" silver coins of the time of George I and George II were minted by the Bank of England, and in Scotland by private individuals. But in 1811-1812 an economic crisis broke out, the cause of which was the regency; King George III was declared incompetent due to illness, and his eldest son George IV became regent. It was difficult to find a more unpopular figure in England at that time: the country was on the verge of civil war, or at least civil disobedience.

And so, in order to revive economic life, merchants and industrialists organized the issuance of copper tokens to pay workers (mainly with a face value of 1 penny and halfpenny), and for the duration of trading operations - silver tokens (mainly with a face value of 1 shilling). They were not as refined as the old "Conder" tokens, and they did not help correct the situation: small merchants did not trust the new coins and did not accept them. Workers had to buy goods in their owner's shops at an unreasonably high price, or exchange tokens by weight for products in other shops. To this was added the minting at private mints of counterfeit, mostly silver coins with a lower weight than real ones. To rectify the situation, in 1815-1816 Parliament passed acts prohibiting private coinage.

Thus ended the third and last great era of British tokens. But their life went on. Firstly, in many colonies of Britain there were tokens - both English and local, which for a long time were the main means of payment. Secondly, at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria, the so-called "unofficial farthings" (the same tokens, but, basically, without indicating the denomination due to possible prosecution under the law), were used as a bargaining chip. By the way, some merchants were still not afraid to put a denomination on the tokens. Only at the end of the 1870s, the British monetary system was finally legalized. Thanks to these laws, for example, “puffins” (Puffin), the scandalous issue of Martin Harman’s tokens, were banned (Martin Coles Harman) 1929,

Gennady DYAGHILEV
Illustrations provided by the author