The Museum has a collection of over 4,000 17th century trade tokens, which Verity, one of our team of Project Assistants , has been working with to make available online.
The first batch of over 1,700 tokens are now available to view as part of our collections online project here.
Trade tokens were issued between 1648 and 1673 at a time when there was little low denomination coinage being issued by the crown.
As a result traders and business proprietors began issuing tokens as an alternate coinage with equivalent denominations of usually of a farthing, half penny or penny.
On rare occasions higher denominations were issued, in the collection we have two-penny tokens and a sixpence.
On the token could be represented a variety of things including, the issuers name, business (written or depicted as a sign- buildings didn’t have numbers, so signs were used to recognise them), and the date of issue.
Tokens would be accepted by other businesses in the area which would be collected and then exchanged for the equivalent silver coinage from the issuer.
Part of the process of getting the collections online included having all the trade tokens scanned. We were lucky enough to have an excellent team of volunteers that scanned the trade tokens, as well as weighing and measuring them. This has allowed us to gather and display a lot more information about them than we otherwise would.
It left me free to update the records, which involved using existing catalogues, as well as re-examining the tokens to check inscriptions and signs to provide the correct information about a token; it also gave me the time to do some additional research into issuers and the places of issue which provided some fascinating contextual information.
The location of issue for the tokens has involved some interesting research using a variety of sources; mainly the changing names of streets and areas around London over the past few hundred years. Whilst many street names have remained for centuries, some have changed to reflect the changing trades and ownership apparent in some areas. These need to be researched to allow us to place the location of issue of a token as accurately as possible.
The Museum already had a small amount of trade tokens online, in The Great Fire of London 1666 collection. These are perhaps some of the most insightful tokens in the collection, as they give a glimpse in to the lives of traders both before and after the Great Fire. The issuers of the tokens, all held businesses in one area of the City of London, for which they issued tokens, before the Great Fire, and when that area was destroyed in the fire, they moved their premises elsewhere, and issued a new token from there; such as Robert Hayes, who owned a coffee house, in Panyer Alley, near St Paul’s, from which he issued a trade token:
When the area burnt down, on the third day of the Great Fire, Tuesday 4th September 1666, Robert Hayes relocated his business to the Barbican:
The Great Fire of London, was a pivotal time in the development of London, with the destruction of some areas and the development of others, and the trade tokens offer a glimpse of this.
For instance, the Moorfields, was one of the last open pieces of land in the City of London, however after the Fire, many refugees moved there, and set up homes for themselves. The area was supposed to be a temporary solution to the destruction, however it is not known how many people chose to remain there permanently.
The range of tokens gives an idea of the multitude of businesses that were established by those who settled there, whether temporarily after the Great Fire, or later as a more permanent settlement.
Of all the tokens, I find the ones that show the development of the City and of London the most interesting, they provide a new way of looking at the modern city around us, in thinking of how it have changed over time.
Later in the year, the rest of the museum’s collection of 17th century trade tokens will be made available online, including some more unusual leather tokens. In the meantime why not explore the museum’s collections currently available through our collections online here.