For those of you who are new to this hobby, this will provide just a taste of the history that tells the story of English coinage. To keep this brief, I will fast forward past the Celtic and Roman periods.
We’ll talk about 735 (YEAR??) 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 industrialization, with more and more workers coming into cities or going to work in the mines. Small change was needed to pay the laborers, but in 1775 King George III discontinued making copper coins and the copper coins that existed did not circulate. One city would obtain enough coins to circulate and function, while another would be without coins for wages or purchases.
In 1787 the Parys mining company, a copper ore mining establishment, 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 in 1787 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, along with the help of men like Matthew Boulton and James Watt, through the Soho Mint.
Tokens became so popular that many folks became collectors and in the late 18th Century James Conder of Ipswich created one of the first catalyzers of this series. This is how many collectors in the U.S. have come to refer to Conder Tokens.
For understanding the many varieties, it is important to note that many of these came with a lettered edge, which provided information on the issuer and where one could go to refund into Regal coinage. Also within the many coin designs, there were advertisements, and promotions for political views and social problems. These designs, and the ideas they portray, provide a window into life at that time and many things that we can still relate to now.