17th-Century Farthing Trade Tokens
"The tokens of this county are principally farthings; the halfpennies
are very few in number, and there are no pennies."
Such is the statement of Boyne in his work upon "Seventeenth Century Tokens" (1858). Dorset, however, is unusually rich in the number of "town-pieces"; the boroughs that issued tokens in their corporate capacity being Blandford, Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Poole, Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Weymouth, and Wimborne--this last being of the value of a halfpenny. With the exception of the adjoining county of Somerset, which has thirteen, Dorset contains a larger number of town-pieces than any other county in England. These town-farthings vary somewhat in size, but are generally as large as the halfpennies of private traders. There is, however, in the Dorset County Museum at Dorchester, a variety of the Dorchester town-piece, of the size of an ordinary farthing token, only much thicker. (No.57, post) It is the only one I have ever met with, and I should imagine it to be very scarce. There were several pairs of dies used in striking the Dorchester town-pieces, but, with this exception, they were all about the usual size.
The town-pieces all bear the same date, 1669, with the exception of Poole, which is dated 1667; thus showing that the corporations did not follow the example of the private issuers for many years. To Poole, therefore, belongs the honour of being by two years the first of the corporate towns in providing for the needs of the town in the way of small and "necessary change." That such a course was not decided upon without grave consideration, may be gathered from the entries in the minutes contained in the public records of the various corporations, which authorized the issue and the quantity of these town-farthings. These orders, where known, will be found more particularly dealt with under the various corporate towns in the body of the work.
The boroughs generally do not appear to have troubled themselves very much about the issue of tokens by private individuals, and in only one instance can I find any notice taken of any such issue. This was in the case of Lawrence Righton, of Dorchester, who had issued a halfpenny token, and an entry occurs in the borough minutes, referring directly to his token, and which I have given at length in the description of the token. (No. 75, post. [not included here as this is a halfpenny rather than farthing.])
To Blandford, however, must be accorded the distinction of having issued corporation farthings in 1623, if we may judge from an entry in Mrs. Farquharson's M.S. Memoranda, mentioned by Hutchins in his "History of Dorset" (vol. i., p. 221). If this be so, the farthings alluded to there must have been issued under the patent granted by King James I. to John, Baron Harington (see note under Blandford, post), and had nothing to do with the voluntary issue of town-pieces by the corporation six-and-forty years later, which only are the subject of our enquiry now.
The earliest date on any Dorset token is 1650, that of Richard Olliver, of Poole, who is run very close by John Feisher, of Evershot, and Zanchy Harvyn, of Milton Abbas, both dated 1651. It is somewhat unfortunate that I have not in my own collection, nor have I ever myself met with any of these three unusually early ones for Dorset, and must, therefore, rely for the correctness of their dates upon Boyne's accuracy alone. The latest date is 1671, borne by Edward Tizard, of Poole, just one year later than the tokens of Robert Ekins and Thomas Flory, both of Wimborne, which are dated 1670.
The great majority of the tokens, it will be seen, are dated at a period subsequent to the restoration of Charles II.; and whether it can be considered as a sign of any want of attachment to the House of Stuart or not, it is a curious fact that not one of them bears the name of Charles, and only two the name of James--James Budd and James Studley, both of Weymouth.
Though some, no doubt, of the Dorset tokens afford specimens of originality in design and execution, the great bulk does not appear to differ much from their fellows in other counties; consisting principally of private issues by tradesmen, with their own names, their initials, and those of their wives, their private marks and signs, and the arms of such of the great civic companies as would tend to show the various callings of the issuers. Of these last the Grocers' Arms head the list by a large majority, appearing some two dozen time, with the Mercers' next, with about half that quantity. These two callings seem to be far in excess of any of the others, clearly denoting what were the most common and popular trades amongst Dorset folk at that time; whilst there are some half-dozen instances of what may be termed tavern-signs.
The instances where the issuers have borne their private arms are rare, being only met with in the tokens of Edward Harvey of Corfe Castle, Simon Eyre of Dorchester, Christopher Ware of Shaftesbury, John Whetcombe of Sherborne, and Robert Ekins of Wimborne. The trades of the various issuers, if we may judge from the symbols adopted, represent almost every imaginable calling, from that of a chandler to that of a warden of the King's School at Sherborne, in the person of John Whetcombe of that town.
There are a few individual peculiarities existing in some of the tokens that are perhaps worth mentioning here. For instance, in that of Thomas Bagg, of Bridport, the name of the issuer, instead of being in the form of the usual legend round the inner edge of the token, is in three straight lines across the field. This is the only token in Dorset so treated.
Another unusual treatment appears in that of John Pitman, of Sherborne, in which the name of the county is given, instead of, or without the addition of, that of any town or place in it. This, again, is the only one so described. There are two or three instances in which the usual practice of placing the initial of the surname over those of the Christian names of the husband and wife has been departed from, e.g., those of John Swetnam of Melcombe Regis, William Molby of Sherborne, and James Cane of Stalbridge. These are the only ones that I am aware of in which this has been done.
The first person who would appear to have made a collection of Dorset tokens (at least, of those that have now come into public hands) was the late Dr. Browne Willis, F.S.A, the eminent antiquary, who was born at Blandford, in 1682, and died in 1760. He presented his collection of coins in 1741 to the University of Oxford, and amongst them his Dorset and other tokens. They are now in the Bodleian Library, where I have myself inspected them; but the Dorset ones do not consist of more than about thirty specimens, if I remember rightly. Then there is the national collection in the British Museum; but at the time I first went to see them, some two or three years ago, they were practically inaccessible to those interested in the tokens of any particular county, owing to their being arranged solely in alphabetical order under the names of the issuers instead of places.
Surely the value and charm of such a collection lies not in the number of tokens issued by persons of any particular surname all over England, but in the living interest the people of any particular county or town take in these quaint evidences of a bygone age, and in the topographical associations that cling to the names of so many of these old issuers. Mr. R. S. Poole, the courteous head of the coin department, however, saw at once the necessity for a more useful, if not a more scientific, arrangement of the large mass of tokens under his care, and proceeded without delay to put that arrangement into action; so that, within a few months after my first visit to the British Museum, I was able to thoroughly inspect those of the county of Dorset--a county which, coming early in the alphabet, was amongst the first to be re-arranged. Long before this, no doubt, every other county has been similarly dealt with. Another outcome of this rearrangement was the issue in 1885 by the Museum authorities of a separate publication, containing a list of all the seventeenth century tokens in the British Museum not already described in Boyne's work.
Whilst I am on the subject of our national collection of tokens, I hope I may be pardoned when I say that I think it is a great pity that wider powers should not be given to those having the care and superintendence of our coin departments in dealing with private collectors and others wishing to exchange or purchase duplicates from them. I understand that it is the practice for them to be allowed to accumulate, and then to be sold wholesale to the dealers. The authorities are not allowed to exchange or sell privately as occasion offers. I could more than once have offered a very liberal exchange of duplicates with public authorities, but have been met with the above rule. It needs very little determination to infer what a considerable advantage would result to our public collections were this rule a little relaxed, and a little more latitude in this respect allowed to the heads of these departments.
I understand that, as far as the Bodleian collection is concerned. an attempt has been recently made to pass a new statute to that effect, though as yet without success. It is to be hoped that those having authority over the disposition of our public collections will be led to deal more liberally with the coin-collecting section of the public; it will assuredly be as much to the ultimate advantage of the national depositories themselves, as it will be a decided boon to private collectors.
The principal authorities for Dorset tokens beyond the British Museum and the Bodleian collections, are the three plates in the introduction to the first volume of the third and last edition of Hutchins's "History of Dorset," and the list of tokens that also appears therein.
With regard to the former, the first two plates were presented by Dr. Cuming, F.S.A., to whom Hutchins was greatly indebted for his assistance in bringing out the first publication of his work in 1774. Two of the tokens, however, there described are wrongly classed amongst those of Dorset, namely, that of William Lodge, of Beare, and that of George Reeve, of Milton. It is clear that the first-named should be Bedale, co. Yorks, and is so assigned by Boyne. With regard to the latter, there might be more reason to doubt; but as the only Milton in Dorset of sufficient importance to have issued tokens was Milton Abbas, and as the full name appears on all the tokens known to have been issued there, I think Boyne was again right in assigning it to Milton, near Gravesend, co. Kent, which was a town of some importance at that time. With regard to the list d tokens given in the last edition of Hutchins, though a more recent authority than Dr. Cuming's plates, it is drawn up so carelessly that no less than eighty mistakes or omissions have been corrected or filled in by myself in my own copy of Hutchins!
Beyond the materials to be obtained from public sources, the late Mr. Boyne must have relied largely upon information afforded to him by private collectors and friends. He had besides a very fine collection of his own, and on the dispersal of that collection some few years ago, I was enabled, through the kind offices of Mr. G. C. Williamson, our editor, to secure those that he had belonging to the county of Dorset. This naturally gave a great impetus to my own collection, with the result that I was able to present the Dorset County Museum at Dorchester with close upon fifty of my duplicates that were new to it.
An instance of the greater interest that is now taken in these old tokens of the seventeenth century, and in the people who issued them--and that a new edition of Boyne's work may not unfairly be called for--may be shown by the fact that, whereas in Dorsetshire alone, Boyne recorded the existence of only 141 tokens in 1858, I have been enabled, by adding new ones and fresh varieties of those already existing, to increase that number to 224, an addition of more than one-third.
I have thought it advisable, in describing each token, to state the source whence I acquired the knowledge of its existence, in order that everyone may have a chance of verifying my statements, or possibly may obtain an inspection of the tokens for themselves. With this object, I have marked with an asterisk every token in my own collection, and where a token does not come within this category, or is not to be found in Boyne's own book, I have placed the initials of the public institution or private individual in whose collection it is, or who has been my authority for its admission in the present edition.
I append a short table of references:
* In the author's collection.
In conclusion, I beg to thank most heartily all those who have so kindly assisted me in my work. My thanks are particularly due to the heads of the coin departments in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library; to Mr. H. J. Moule, curator of the Dorset County Museum; to Mr. W. Bowles Barrett, of Weymouth; to Mr. H. S. Gill, of Tiverton; to Mr. Thomas Wainwright, of Barnstaple; as well as to those gentlemen who, through the kind offices of our editor, have supplied me from time to time with notes; and lastly, but not least, to those clergy who have either, ofttimes at the cost of considerable trouble and inconvenience to themselves, made searches for me in their parish registers, or have courteously placed the registers themselves at my disposal. In fact, to one and all, who have given me help in an undertaking, in which, laborious though it may have been, the labour has been that of love--love for the work in which I have been engaged, and for the county which I represent.
J. S. Udal.
© 2007-2015 BritishFarthings