Historical coin tokens provide a fascinating glimpse into a short and interesting period of our history. Although tokens per se did appear in the Roman Empire, especially in the outermost provinces, Britain witnessed a major usage of base metal coins comprising of copper and brass in the 17th century around the time of the execution of King Charles I in 1649.
These coins were in circulation as currency for around 25 years due to instability in the government and were very cheap to mint. Their issue was triggered by an ongoing shortage of official coinage that was small enough to allow day-to-day purchases of goods.
Previously coins were valued according to their weight content in silver or gold and were sometimes cut into halves, quarters or shaved fragments known commonly as pieces of eight.
The shortage of small denomination coinage reached a critical mass with the move of many workers away from agricultural jobs and into the work force in factories during the Industrial Revolution.
The growing payrolls of factories were nearly impossible to meet for employers with no supply of coins. At the same time, the population growth rate of Great Britain between 1750 and 1800 nearly quadrupled.
Tokens were more local than government issue coins and were sometimes referred to as ‘regional banking’ and were in effect, a pledge to redeem goods. By 1802, the production of privately issued provincial tokens had ceased.
However, in the next ten years the intrinsic value of copper rose. The return of privately-minted token coinage was evident by 1811 and endemic by 1812, as more and more of the government-issued copper coinage was melted down for trade. The Royal Mint undertook a massive recoinage programme in 1816, with large quantities of gold and silver coin being minted.
The thriving city of Norwich had an estimated 300 employers who used their own minted tokens, making Norwich one of the country’s largest users, and thus ensuring the employers had total financial control over their workforce.
The tokens were only redeemable through a network of establishments that were usually either owned or controlled by the employer. To thwart the further issuance of private token coinage, in 1817 an act of parliament was passed which forbade the manufacture of private token coinage under very severe penalties.
The Truck Act 1831 finally banned employers paying their workers using tokens and ended this period of virtual slave labour.
As the leading gold dealers in the region, we are always looking to buy and sell all coinage. Please drop into our store on London Street for more assistance and advice.