3rd March 1797. Token Money.

In the time of the Industrial Revolution there was a shortage of coinage, much of which was forged, so manufacturers, such as the cotton-mill owners, the Peels, were forced to make their own token money, to satisfy the demands of trade.

By 1797 the government decided to get a grip on the matter, and it was Today that Matthew Boulton the Soho, Birmingham button and coin maker, was summoned to London, by Lord Hawkesbury, to discuss the new coinage he had in mind.(1)

Back in the reign of George II, a large number of ½d and ¼d coins were produced up to 1754 and then ceased. However in the next reign of George III, new shortages appeared owing to forgeries and the neglect of the government to meet demand. This led to the Parys Mines Company of Anglesey, North Wales, in 1787, to make tokens to pay their copper workers.

Anglesey Token.

Anglesey Token

These were the first tokens and made at their private mint in Birmingham. Soon Scotland and Ireland followed suit. Many of the tokens produced at the time, were concerned with advertising and private causes-the ‘political series’.

George III discovered that copper coinage wasn’t being circulated for two reasons. Firstly the counterfeiters spent the new genuine pennies which quickly disappeared, following the theory of Gresham who said ‘bad money drives out ‘good’. Also these coins were melted down and converted into two or three counterfeit, lighter coins.

In 1786 two-thirds of the coinage was fake with ½d and 1d coins vulnerable, and  few silver coins were genuine. The Royal Mint struck no copper coins for forty-eight years between 1773 and 1821. The gap was filled with tokens, which the government encouraged.

In 1788 Boulton’s Soho Mint struck copper coins for the British East India Company, and obtained the contract in 1797 to produce first copper coins in a quarter century.

Boulton in order to differentiate between genuine and counterfeit coinage, specified a precise width, and a weight of the pure copper which was close to its intrinsic value, so making counterfeiting hardly worth while.

Thus in 1797 we see the new copper 2d and 1d produced under contract by Boulton.. They were comparatively large and had a broad  rim and known as Cartwheels.

Cartwheel twopenny piece.

Cartwheel twopenny piece.




Cormorant/liver bird, with sea-weed in its mouth on a token coin of  one shilling for Thos. Wilson, Liverpool dated 1812.

Conder Token Obverse.

Conder Token Obverse.

Conder token reverse

Conder token reverse







Tokens were generically classed as ‘Conder Coins’, after the draper and numismatist, James Conder ( 1761-1823), who catalogued and collected many, and indeed produced his own.(2)

Thus the popularity of the token coinage brought its own destruction, when we see the 1797 government’s  own coinage: of 2d and 1d, and in 1799 ½d and ¼d (farthing), even though it needed Boulton to produce it!

(1) Later Prime Minister, Earl of Liverpool.

(2) Amazingly when Condor’s Ipswich house was demolished 100s of coins of the reign of Aethelred II (c.978-1016) was discovered. Being 10 feet under the doorstep, Conder wouldn’t have had any idea of their existence.

Ref: eadt.co.uk/news/coins. East Anglia Daily Times. 15.7.2010.

Ref: thecoppercorner.co./history.

Ref: wikipedia.org/james_conder. Pic of conder coins.

Ref: wikipedia. org/soho./Pic of cartwheel coins.

Ref: Dickinson, H.W. 1937, Matthew Boulton, CUP.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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