GREAT BRITAIN farthing token 1838


GREAT BRITAIN, token, 1838, Obverse: head of Chinaman with queue and long mustache L, SAML KING 1838, Reverse: scale over box on which FINE TEA, GORCER & TEA DEALER DALE END, Edge: plain, copper, 20mm, 3.58g, farthing size, Bell-660, XF

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The British government was averse to producing copper coinage for centuries and only did it grudgingly and rarely. Merchants would make tokens to fill the commercial gap. The government would grow concerned and shut down the token use, then they’d make a copper issue, then they’d get distracted and eventually a new garden of tokens would bloom. It was not until the reign of Queen Victoria that they got serious about copper coinage.

In England tokens started coming into use in the 16th century. Scotland and Ireland followed suit. Since the coinage was unified throughout the country there was not as much need for jetons in the counting houses to keep track of various currencies. But the neglect of the copper level of the market made for blooms of tokens in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Each bloom was suppressed by the government, which promised to do better, and, by the mid-19th century, finally succeeded. Token use, having become normalized, continued here and there into the 1980s.

A token is used like a coin but is not a coin. Rather, it stands for a coin without the value of the coin. Maybe its copper, but says its value is the same as a silver coin. Usually tokens were made privately, but sometimes governments got involved.

The word “exonumia” is used to describe all kinds of things that are “like” coins but are not coins. I wrote a blog post on that subject. Basic categories: 1. used like a coin but not issued by a national government, 2. looks like a coin but not made for spending, 3. other things that we are interested in.