Privately Issued Tokens

The tokens issued by tradesmen and women in Norfolk are generally small farthings measuring around 15-17mm produced in copper or copper alloy. There are a few larger halfpennies in the north and west of the county but these are, unlike other counties, unusual in Norfolk. They generally feature the name of the issuer, the place of issue and, on the obverse, a device of some sort. On the reverse there is usually a triad of letters giving, at the top, the initial letter of the issuer’s surname and, below it, the initials of the first name of the issuer and his wife. Where the issuer was unmarried, only their initials are given. Sometimes there is a date.

The obverse devices vary widely. Often there will be a shield showing the arms of the relevant Guild Company, frequently the Grocers’ Arms. Other devices take the form of the signboards that would have hung by the ‘issuers’ premises but there is a wide variety of other types that refer to the issuer’s trade.

A typical farthing token, John Parker of Norwich, showing the sign of the Lamb Inn from where he operated.

 

The tokens were produced at various London workshops and would have been ordered from there by interested parties. This partly accounts for the varying spellings and mistakes in names that occur on the tokens. If transmission of what was to appear on a token was by word of mouth or a badly-written note then one can imagine the difficulties, particularly if issuer’s agent and token producer had strong local accents.

Privately issued tokens were outlawed in the three major settlements of Norwich, Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn in 1667 or 1668 and their place was taken by the Corporation issues. They continued longer in the smaller settlements.

The standard work of reference, still used to identify these tokens over a century after publication, is Williamson’s Trade Tokens issued in the Seventeenth Century (1889), republished in 1967. Williamson drew on the collections of his many correspondents and his catalogue remains invaluable, although it is riddled with errors in transcription, very understandable given the way in which it was compiled, by handwritten letters, in an era before widespread photography of coins. Williamson’s Norfolk lists are, however, considering their age, remarkably complete.

Dickinson’s Seventeenth Century Tokens of the British Isles and their values gives a basic list of Norfolk issuers but with no illustrations or readings (London 1986). However, the list is useful because it suggests that a number of Norfolk tokens should be reattributed to places of the same name in other counties. In nearly all cases these suggestions appear sound. A very few new tokens are also listed.

The catalogues of the Norweb token collection, published as volumes in the series Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles, list only the specimens in that collection but they do have the advantage that a photograph of the best example of each die variant is reproduced at life size in black and white. The coverage of Norfolk is good (Thompson and Dickinson 1993). Unfortunately, no full readings of the tokens are given. Nonetheless, the volumes offer an invaluable resource and incorporate many of the amendments suggested in Dickinson’s work.