The word "token" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "tacen", for a sign or a symbol . Strictly speaking most of the world's present day coins are tokens for they do not have the full intrinsic value they purport to represent, and are really symbols . However, the commonly accepted numismatic definition of a token is a piece of metal or plastic, resembling a coin in shape, size and type but issued privately , usually without Government authority, for use as a substitute for the official coinage; generally as a pledge to be redeemed either in goods to the value it represents or in corresponding coin of the realm.

Background to English Tokens
In medieval and early modern Europe the value of a coin was based on its precious metal content. If a mint used less precious metal than was required so that the product was under weight or if they used a more debased metal that was below the required finess, then the coinage produced would be devalued in relation to other coinages. To protect English coinage from being devalued due to unscrupulous minters, the minting of gold and silver coins was reserved as a royal privilege. Lower denomination coins were made of the less valuable precious metal, namely silver, which in England was refined to a .925 fineness called sterling. The silver penny was the smallest size coin of sterling fineness that the monarch could reasonably issue. Mossman has calculated if Elizabeth I were to have made sterling silver farthings they would have weighed only two grains each! Clearly such a small size would be difficult to produce and almost impossible to use. However, small change under a penny denomination was needed for daily purchases. For such coins to be a usable size they would need to be made out of a base metal. But, even if they were made of one of the more expensive base metals, as copper, the coins would need to be large (under Elizabeth I a halfpenny would need to be over 175 grains) if they were to have an intrinsic value equal to their face value. This would also make them costly to produce. Alternatively, small change coins could be made of base metal but in a somewhat smaller and usable size, that was economic to produce. This would mean their intrinsic value would be less than their face value, so they would have only a token status. As tokens, their use at face value would be dependent on local acceptance. The resolution of this problem was, those people who needed small change the most, namely the local merchants, produced small change token pieces and used them in their daily commerce. The public knew the tokens would be accepted by the local merchants who were issuing them, so they had confidence in accepting and using the tokens at face value to make local purchases. These privately produced token coins were made of lead, tin and even leather. A large number of such pieces were in circulation through the reign of Elizabeth I.

The Patent Farthings 1613-1642
On May 19, 1613 James issued a proclamation prohibiting private token coinage and granting John Harrington, Lord of Exton, a royal patent to produce copper farthing tokens which were to be used throughout the realm. Lord Harrington and the king hoped to share sizable profits from this enterprise. The coins were authorized to be just six grains but the first products actually weighed only five grains. Because of protests over the minute size of these tokens the weight was increased to nine grains. These copper coins, which displayed a crown and crossed sceptres on the obverse with a crowned harp on the reverse, were extremely small and easily counterfeited. Of the three Harrington varieties two were very small (12.25mm) and were plated with tin, the third variety was larger (15mm) and issued in copper without plating. When Lord Harrington died in 1614 the patent passed to his son, who died soon thereafter, so the patent reverted to Lord Harrington's wife, Lady Anne Harrington. It appears Lady Harrington either sold or gave the patent to the Duke of Lennox for on June 28, 1614 the patent passed to Lodewiche, Duke of Lennox, who took on the tite of the Duke of Richmond in 1623. The five varieties emitted during Lodewiche's life are called the Lennox issues. Thus the Harrington and Lennox farthings date to the reign of James 1 (1603-1625).
Upon the death of Lodewich in February of 1624 the title passed jointly to his wife Frances, Duchess of Richmond and Sir Francis Crane. This partnership began issuing farthings during the reign of Charles I (1625-1649); in all they emitted eight varieties known as the Richmond or Royal farthings. On June 20, 1634 the Duchess passed the patent to Henry Howard, Lord Maltravers, who began producing farthings in partnership with the same Sir Francis Crane. This partnership produced six varieties, in the same style as the previous issues, known as the Maltravers farthings. The public regularly protested that the patentees were profiteers producing extraordinarily lightweight coins that were frequently counterfeited. In fact, Maltravers refused to accept tokens of earlier patentees, stating too many counterfeits were in circulation. This caused great economic hardship on the poor who held the tokens. To stop counterfeiting Maltravers introduced a smaller and thicker coin with a brass plug in the centre called a Rose farthing, after the image on the reverse which was changed from a harp to a rose. Seven varieties of Rose farthings were issued. In 1642 when the Puritans took control of the Parliament the coining monopoly was abolished and the minting of the patent farthings ceased.
Some of these small patent farthings have been uncovered in the excavation of Wolstenholme Towne, one of the small settlements outside of Jamestown that was destroyed during a major Indian attack in 1622. Others were uncovered at Jamestown, the River Creek site in York County, VA and at what is known as the "Chesapean Site" at Virginia Beach. Although many people disliked these tokens it appears they were sought in the Jamestown area. In fact, in 1636 the Governor of the plantation, John Harvey, petitioned James I for a supply of the farthing tokens so he could pay day labourers. However, it appears the request was not granted. A few of these tokens must have also been brought to Massachusetts Bay, where the Puritans did not want to have anything to do with the hated coins. Indeed, they preferred to use musket balls to these lightweight products of the profiteers.

  Lead tokens are not exactly scarce detector finds, but at the same time they are not something that you recover on every outing. Those dating to the 17th and 18th centuries are more numerous than the medieval or Tudor examples, but nevertheless each has a special place in our history.Unfortunately, lead is a poor survivor both in terms of its softness (and therefore it might suffer damage in use), and also from its rapid oxidisation and decomposition in the ground. This begs the question as to why it enjoyed such widespread use by our ancestors, going back at the very least to Roman times. The answer is that it was cheap, readily available, easy to work, and had a low melting point. It was easy to mould or stamp with the most primitive of equipment, and if a mistake was made during manufacture the lead could go straight back into the melting pot to be recycled and used again.
Some of the known examples of 17th and 18th century tokens have initials on them, these occasionally being mirror-reversed. A rare few sometimes carry a date (ie 1694) usually with initials above.Research has shown that these initials normally relate to the landowner, who would have originally owned and worked the property on which they were found. This carries the implication that they would have been given to casual farm workers as tallies for work carried out, and could have been used at the end of a period of time to purchase supplies from the landowner or be redeemed with him against coins of the realm. However, there are many lead tokens that, although they carry a variety of designs, do not have initials. Possibly these could have been used on a number of farms, within an area, as tallies or currency.The whole situation, though, remains something of a mystery and perhaps we will never know the exact use of these pieces.
  This is a farthing token struck by the City of Bristol. The date of 1662 is visible, as is the inscription A BRISTOLL FARTHING. These tokens were regional currency, and are said to have only been legal tender within about a 10-mile radius of Bristol, which is perhaps why it was discarded here in Dorset.                


1625-1649 (Charles I) Rose Farthing

Obverse Legend:

CAROLV(S) DG MAG BRI (Charles by the grace of God King of Great Britain)


Single arched crown over two sceptres

Reverse Legend:

FRA ET HIB REX (France and Ireland)


Single plain rose with crown above



  Token Coin
Token showing Gigantinc Wheel at Earls Court 1899. The reverse side says:- The Gigantic Wheel at Earls Court is 284 feet in diameter and weighs about 908 tons there are 40 cars each to carry 30 persons from the top of the wheel about 300 feet Windsor Castle is visable on the west.



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