Corporation Tokens

In Norfolk, tokens issued by the Corporations of Norwich and the large towns of Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn replaced those issued by private traders in 1667 and 1668. Diss Corporation also issued a token in 1669 but in this instance there were no private traders producing tokens at the time.

The Corporation farthings are larger than the private issues, generally around 19-21mm, and this, together with the fact that they were issued by a Civic authority, meant that they circulated farther than their private counterparts as can be seen by the distribution maps created by the Norfolk Token Project. They are rather plain in appearance, the designs giving the name and Arms of the town or city, the denomination of farthing and the date.

norwich corporation token 1667

 

One reason behind the introduction of the Corporation issues may have been the failure of some private traders (because they had taken refuge in the country) to redeem their own tokens during the plague which hit Yarmouth and Lynn in 1665 and Norwich the following year. Failure to have their small change redeemed would have affected the poor in particular and there is much evidence to suggest that, at the height of the plague in 1666, the authorities in Norwich were very worried about the poor causing civil disorder. The introduction of the Corporation issues removed any problems caused by private issuers failing to redeem their own tokens and also allowed the civic authorities to regulate what currency circulated within the city.

We have some records relating to the issue of Corporation farthings in Norfolk. In Norwich we know that the man responsible for negotiating their production in 1667 was Christopher Jay, one of the MPs for the city and the man who built Samson and Hercules House on Tombland (see below). In Great Yarmouth there are several records showing that the issue of Corporation tokens there was intimately connected with poor relief, a fact confirmed by the tokens themselves with their legend ‘FOR THE VSE OF THE POOR’.

 

The issue of tokens – even by a town or city corporation – was an illegal act, the production of coinage of any kind being a Royal prerogative. In 1670 all Corporations that had issued tokens during the 1650s and 1660s had to obtain a Royal Pardon for having done so and to cease further issue. By 1672 the new Royal copper coinage of halfpennies and farthings bearing the image of Charles II and Britannia had begun and it was time for the Corporation tokens to be withdrawn from circulation entirely. After withdrawal they were sold as scrap. In the case of the Norwich issues we know that some 150,000 tokens were sold as scrap to Mr. John Melchior, a metal dealer, for £48 and ten shillings. Melchior’s memorial brass still stands in the church of St. John Maddermarket (see below).

Melchior brass

 

In Norwich, Yarmouth and Lynn, the Corporation issues had a very short lifetime but in the countryside things appear to have been different. Wodderspoon, writing in 1859, nearly 200 years after their withdrawal, notes that the Norwich Corporation issues ‘may at this day be found in remote places doing duty for the coin of the realm.’