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Fowler's Halfpenny D&H306

This halfpenny was commissioned by John Fowler, an oil and tinplate dealer at 78 Long Acre street, London.

Middlesex Fowler's Halfpenny D&H306

The obverse depicts Neptune, although his hair and beard are quite modest for a god of the seas and more reminiscent of an ordinary sea wolf, and the back depicts a scene of a whaler hunting.

At the end of the eighteenth century, whale oil was a very important commodity in large cities. Lighting of streets, houses, factories and shops became more and more dependent on it. As early as the 1740s, there were more than five thousand street lamps fueled by whale oil in London. Whale oil was also used in the manufacture of soaps, lacquers and paints, rigging, and in the manufacture of coarse woolen cloth such as military twill, which was in great demand in the eighteenth century. And, of course, in the new age of machines, there was a rapidly growing demand for whale oil, which was used as a lubricant.

Fowler's trade was focused primarily on the inner city market, where he sold putty, varnishes and paints, but mainly lamp oil and candles, although it is possible that he could also be a supplier of oil for street lighting. Fowler's shop also stocked spermaceti candles, which outperformed old-fashioned tallow candles in their lack of smoke and their bright, long-lasting burn. It is very possible that he was one of those merchants who, a few years later, prevented the introduction of gas street lighting in London.

South sea whale fishery, William John Huggins. 1834 Aquatint On Paper.
New Bedford Whaling Museum

In addition to hunting sperm whales for spermaceti, the Southern Ocean had a large concentration of northern right whales (Eubalaena glacialis), which in the 1790s accounted for one-third to one-half of all imports of whale oil. The engraver showed a powerful V-shaped jet on the token, which is a sign of a smooth whale. Undoubtedly, the scene of whale hunting is reproduced quite accurately, despite the false sense of calmness in this rather dangerous fishery. A few seconds later, the scene could be completely different, because the wounded whale could try to get rid of his pursuers.

Engraver: Wyon, manufacturer: Mynd.