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17th-Century Farthing Trade Tokens

So far as can be ascertained, up to this time, there were 368 different tokens issued in Devon; some of the counties near London had a larger number, but none of the remove ones, Yorkshire alone excepted, had so many. Exeter furnished eighty-three, or nearly one-fourth of the whole, and this fact is a proof that our Western Metropolis was then in a flourishing condition. It may be interesting to compare our old city at that time with one of the largest centres of provincial population at the present day, namely, Liverpool, which had but eleven issuers of local tokens; thus showing what two centuries have effected in altering their relative size and importance. The loss of the great staple trade of this county since then may have retarted the growth of Exeter, but Liverpool has certainly gone ahead with marvellous rapidity. Plymouth stands next to Exeter in the number of tokens issued--she sent out forty-three; then comes Tiverton with twenty-six varieties, of which seven were halfpennies, whilst Exeter had but one halfpenny. Our other towns were much below in point of numbers, as will be seen by the list.

The following is a detailed list of the Devonshire series, including all the recent additions (which have never yet appeared in print), together with the names of the issuers.

Many of these were large employers of manual labour, such as makers of serves and woollen goods, then called "clothiers," who doubtless used the tokens in payment of wages; others were enterprising tradesmen, innkeepers, &c., and a goodly number were of the gentler sex, including five at Plymouth, carrying on their respective occupations, and eight in Exeter who had these coins struck; probably strong-minded widows, (A female issuer of Colebrook has "WIDOW HOMES" on her farthing, No. 45) who were endeavouring by honest industry to support and bring up their fatherless children, as sensible English matrons still do. Such persons always did, and always will, find friends to help them. One was named "Judeth Hatchley," who lived "neare East Gate." Another, "Ann Powle, without West Gate." Another "Elinor Roope, in St. Sidwell parish;" "Grace Searelle, in South Gate Streete," and four others.

Some of the tokens were not dated, perhaps from want of space. They generally bore the name and initials of the person for whom they were struck; and when that of a male issuer had three initials, the second was that of his wife. It may here be noted that of all of the seventeenth-century tokens coined, no person, male or female, appears on them with more than one Christian name--a custom much departed from in these days; [Camden, in his Remaines concerning Britain, p. 49, remarks: "Two Christian names are rare in England, and I only remember now his Majesty, who was named Charles James, as the Prince, his son, Henry Frederic; and among private men, Thomas Maria Wingfield and Sir Thomas Poshumus Hobby."] but, as if to make up the deficiency, it was not uncommon in that and the previous century for a man to have two surnames. We have an instance in one of the former bishops of this diocese, who was named "John Harman, alias Voisey;" and at Tiverton there were two gentlemen whose double surnames have been handed down to us--one, a nephew of good old Peter Blundell, "Robert Comin, alias Chilcot," who founded the English free school there; the other, "Richard Hill, alias Spurway," was the first Mayor of Tiverton. Other names with an alias occur in the old parish register of that borough about the same time. When a second surname was thus affixed, the additional ones were adopted permanently by the two Tiverton families, the descendants of both Chilcot and Spurway retaining those names only. The English free school is still called "Chilcot's School," and of the Spurway family, so well known to the older inhabitants, two became rectors of Clare and Pitt Portions in Tiverton.

The tokens were often issued by the ruling authorities of a city or borough, and are then called "town-pieces." In Devonshire such were coined and circulated by Ashburton, Axminster, Bideford, Dartmouth, Moreton-Hampstead, and Torrington. The Ashburton token has on obverse, "AN AYSHBURTON HALFE PENNY 1670" On reverse, as is usual with town-pieces, there are the arms of the borough. The Axminster one has an obverse, "A FARTHING FOR AXMISTER" (sic); reverse, "AND NO OTHER PLACE." Bideford and Dartmouth had each a halfpenny, as well as a farthing token. Moretonhampstead had two varieties, both halfpennies. On each is the legend, "FOR YE BENEFIT OF YE POORE." Both are dated (1670), and one has on obverse, "YE 8 MEN & FEEFFEES OF MORETON." The eight men were the wardens and sidesmen of the parish church.

The token for Aveton Gifford is spelt "Awton Gifford;" one for Bradninch has on it "Bradnedge," and Lympstone is spelt "Limson," all as now pronounced in each locality.

On the six Collumpton tokens the town is spelt four different ways, and not one of them is right. IT is rather strange the orthography of this town is not yet fixed. The post-office authorities stamp all their letters "Cullompton;" the county magistrates and their clerk, at the divisional petty sessions, always spell it in the same way; so do the inhabitants generally; whilst in Johnston's Gazetteer, in the Clergy List, and in Boyne's work, the first two vowels change places, and it is spelt "Collumpton."

In some counties the tokens were made of various shapes; not only circular, but octagonal, square, diamond, and heartshape. In Devonshire they were all round. The square and diamond-shaped tokens are very rare.

The Incorporated Trade's Companies were well represented in this county, as we have the arms of no less than seventeen of them amongst our tokens; viz., those of the Apothecaries, Barber-Surgeons, Blacksmiths, Clothworkers, Coopers, Cordwainers, Drapers, Glaziers, Grocers, Haberdashers, Ironmongers, Mercers, Peterers, Salters, Tallow Chandlers, Vintners, and Weavers. A few of our issuers exhibit their own armorial bearings for a device; namely Nathaniel Symons, of Barnstaple; Thomas Potter, of Modbury; William Furneaux, of Newton Abbott; John Shebbeare, of Okehampton; John Cooke, Roger Oliver, and William Tom, all of Plymouth; and Thomas Dayman, of Tiverton.

The following had what are called "pubbing devices" on their tokens, being mostly a poor rebus on their names: Henry Ball, of Bampton, had three balls (See No. 14); Edward Burd, of Colyton, had one of the feathered tribe on his; James Daggery, North Tawton, had a dagger; William Diaman, Tiverton, had three diamonds; Samuel Badcock, Southmolton, and James Cockey, Totnes, had each what our American cousins call a rooster; John Crosse, Totnes, had a cross; and Ralph Harbottle, Torrington, had the rebus of a bottle on a hare. It will be seen by some of the tokens that fashion as well as history "repeats itself." Jacob Irish, Crediton, and Henry Tanner, Honiton, have each a man's low-crowned hat, with a feather; and we know that some fast young men nowadays wear feathers in their hats. Another issuer gives a boot, with the same absurdly high heel as is worn by the ladies at the present time.

We have in our series the signs of many inns and public houses represented; viz., the Angel, Bear, Bell, Castle, Cock, Dolphin, Dragon, Globe, Goat, Hart, Hoop, Lion, Mermaid, St George and the Dragon, Ship, Star, Sun, Tankard, Three Cranes, Three Stages, Turk's Head, White(?) Ball, and Wild Boar; and it is a proof of their antiquity, as well as their vitality, that several signs which appeared on our tokens two hundred years ago are still in existence. Inter alia, we have yet, at Appledore, the Ship (on No. 3 token); at Barnstaple, the Castle and Star (Nos. 19, 20); at Dartmouth, the Globe (No. 74); at Exeter, the Turk's Head (No. 89); and the Sun (No. 123, which gave its name to the street it is situated in); at Kingsbridge, the George (No. 190); at Ottery St. Mary, the Golden Lion (No. 222); at Plymouth, the Ship (No. 228), the Four Castles (Nos. 253), the Golden Fleece (No. 264); and at Thorverton, the Dolphin (No. 301).

But it was not only inns that had signs in those days. We know by our old books that printers of that period had them, and these coins inform us that many other tradesmen mounted a sign. There are three instances in our county series; viz., Benjamin Massey, of Colyton, mercer, had an anchor; John Guy, of Colebrook, chandler, displayed a cock; Nicholas Cole, of Plymouth, mercer, had a rose. In London tradesmen's signs were very frequent. I have a token in my collection of "John Radbvrne, Grocer, at ye Soldier in St. John Street."

None of our farthings, except the Axminster, Bideford, and Dartmouth town-pieces, had their value impressed upon them; but every halfpenny had, the latter part of the word being spelt generally with one N; and it is rather remarkable the same antiquated style of spelling is still retained in all our Books of Common Prayer printed at Oxford University Press, even to the latest editions, since the new lectionary was introduced. The word peny occurs in the gospels for Septuagesima Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent, and the twenty-third Sunday after Trinity; but in the various editions of the New testament issued from the same press the modern form of penny is adopted.

Some of the legends on the tokens of other counties are curious; but only a few on our own deserve special notice. Three of the Exeter ones hav on them, "For necessary change" (vide Nos. 83, 134, and 135). A curious unpublished halfpenny of Edward Broad, Southmolton, in my collection, has this quaint rhyme--

When you please,
Ile chainge these.

Many of those who struck tokens at Exeter, Plymouth, and Tiverton filled important public offices as will be seen by the list. There were "men of mark" too in other counties amongst the issuers. "Joseph Sayer" states he was "Rector of Newbery" (Newbury) [This worthy had the Bible for a device on the reverse of his token.] "Anthony Williamson," of Liverpool, was "Alderman;" Henry Chapman (residence not given) styles himself "qvondam Esquire" Perhaps he acquired that title during the Commonwealth, and was deprived of it at the Restoration; but we cannot verify this conjecture, as his token is not dated. The letters J and U are never found on any of the tokens, but I and V always supply their places; thus each of the latter serves for two letters, and therefore is sometimes a vowel, sometimes a consonant. A curious mediaeval token in my collection has the alphabet of the period on one side; but J and U are both wanting. On the obverse is a quaint figure of a schoolmaster sitting at a table, with an abacus and counters before him.

We do not know how far our tokens circulated out of their own locality, but probably, like the five-pound notes of a private banker in the present day [1889], they would pass as money in any neighbouring places where their owners were known; for, unlike the patent farthings of Charles I., they could always be converted into cash by applying to the issuer.

Tokens of several surrounding places have been found in Exeter, [See Captain Short's Collectanea curiosa Antiqua Dunmonia, p. 80.] and recently a Collumpton farthing was dug up in Tiverton churchyard.

From: Trade Tokens Issued in the Seventeenth Century in England, Wales, and Ireland, by Corporations, Merchants, Tradesmen, etc. A New and Revised Edition of William Boyne's Work. George C Williamson, 1889,1891.

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