Up to around AD735 silver pennies for a basis of English coinage. These pennies were the smallest denomination, and if smaller change was needed the penny was cut in half (half penny), or in fourths (a four-thing, or farthing).
As silver became more valuable the pennies were made smaller, so by 1608 the silver penny weighed just 8 grains and a 2-grain farthing was so small it was nearly useless. The Kings and Queens were reluctant to have small change produced in copper because it was considered of little value. This resulted in a chronic shortage of farthings and half pennies and lead to people producing token money, with or without the blessing of the Monarch. While bartering for goods and services was still a large part of the economy, the need for small change was rapidly growing. In effort to reduce the use of lead tokens, King James I authorized the private manufacture of copper farthings. However, because these were produced at a weight that was far less than the intrinsic value of a farthing, these copper farthings were not well liked or broadly accepted.
The Civil War, and ultimately the beheading of Charles 1, lead to less oversight of the production of tokens. This lead to a larger scale production of copper tokens. In 1672 tokens were again suppressed, and royal farthings and half pennies were minted which briefly eliminated the need for the peoples’ tokens.
After the civil war came industrialisation, with more and more workers coming into cities . Small change was needed to pay the labourers, but in 1775 King George III discontinued making copper coins and the copper coins that existed did not circulate.
The shortage of small denomination coinage reached a critical mass with the move of many workers away from agricultural jobs and into the work force in factories during the Industrial Revolution The growing payrolls of factories were nearly impossible to meet for employers with no supply of coins. At the same time, the population growth rate of Great Britain between 1750 and 1800 nearly quadrupled. One city would obtain enough coins to circulate and function, while another would be without coins for wages or purchases.
In 1768, one of the largest veins of copper in the world was found at Parys Mountain on the island of Anglesey in the northwest of Wales. In 1785, Thomas Williams (the “Copper King”), acting as a representative of the Parys Mine Company, met with the master of the British mint to propose that regal copper coins be struck using a anti-counterfeit method of edge lettering, and offering this technology to the mint free of charge. The stipulation was that the supply of the copper for these new coins would come from the Parys Mine Company. The British mint master did not entertain the offer. By 1786, two-thirds of the coins in circulation in Britain were counterfeit, and the Royal Mint responded by shutting itself down, worsening the situation!
In 1787 the Parys mining company, decided to make their own tokens knowing they had access to coinage presses and believing they were “out of the way” in Anglesey, Wales. They began making high quality pennies and half pennies of the proper weight and they were made payable in Regal funds. These coins were readily accepted by the workers and the local merchants. The mines also contributed to the growing trend by supplying copper where there had been none. Manufacturers and creative types eagerly produced designs that improved the coining process and went along with the Industrial Revolution, Matthew Boulton probably the most prolific producer established the Soho Mint initially in London, then Birmingham where his copper manufacturing was. His was not a monopoly and several others came into the market including William Lutwyche in Birmingham.
These tokens were limited editions and often produced to finance investment in plant in the Industrial Revolution. Capital being short. Often the patterns did not portray the industrial scenes but the bucolic rural scenes of the proto-industry. One such coin commissioned from Lutcwyche was the Hereford halfpenny of 1794 by Charles Honiatt. Charles Honiatt, (1764-1837), who was a brazier, tin plate worker, cider maker and warehouseman; later, mayor of Hereford in 1821 . It features an apple tree and references to cider on obverse and scales of justice on the reverse.
Another from the West country was the Newent Glo. halfpenny from Peter Kempson also minting tokens in Birmingham. Minted for John Nourse Morse mercer and tradesman. He traded in fruit trees and raised money to pay his staff with this coin. Newent being close to May Hill the 'epicenter' of perry growing. He was successful and by the time of his death had built up considerable landholdings. The wording of the legend ‘several thousand young healthy and fine crab apple and pear stocks raised from the kernel to be sold by J. Morse Newent Gloucestershire 1796’.
The British national financial crisis reached a point of despair in February 1797, when the Bank of England stopped redeeming its bills for gold. In an effort to get more money into circulation, the Government adopted a plan to issue large quantities of copper coins, and Lord Hawkesbury summoned Boulton to London on 3 March 1797, informing him of the Government’s plan, and he was awarded a contract. Following on from Boulton where several other minters including Lutwyche and Kempson above.
Other tokens had similar agricultural themes , sometimes combined with industry and a dollop of religion. "Success to the Plough & Fleece" and God Preserve the Plough & Sail".
By 1802, the production of privately issued provincial tokens had ceased. The Truck Act of 1831 finally banned employers paying their workers using tokens (and cider itself as discussed in other Musings!).
Tokens became so popular that many people became collectors and in the late 18th Century James Conder of Ipswich created one of the first catalogue. This is why these tokens are referred to as Conder Tokens.