O’Brien Coin Guide: Irish Evasion Halfpennies (1770s to the 1790s)


Introduction

These coins are contemporary counterfeits and most of them were produced between 1782-1799, although some ‘dates’ are significantly earlier (and there is a good reason for this). They are easily spotted due to their unusual legends – a deliberate ploy in order to “evade” the counterfeiting laws of the time.

In 1742, an Act of Parliament was passed that made the manufacturing and uttering of counterfeit copper coins an imprisonable offence, i.e. counterfeiting copper coinage was a simple misdemeanour, which carried a sentence of two years imprisonment.

  • In terms of law enforcement, this seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, for nine years later ()in 1751) , another Act of King George II had to be enacted … calling for the previous Act to be enforced !
    • This seemed to have little effect on the counterfeiters
    • Two years later, in 1753, it was estimated that less than 40% of the coin in circulation were genuine
  • So, in 1771, yet another Act (this time by King George III) was passed, making it a felony to counterfeit copper coinage, or to attempt to sell counterfeits at below their ‘notional’ face value.
    • Magistrates were empowered to order searches, and to destroy coining machinery
    • More importantly, from 1771 counterfeiting copper became a capital offence, i.e. it carried the death sentence !
    • The regal copper counterfeiting laws, however, had a loophole

These counterfeiting laws were written to cover regal coinage but if a coin was made that was not an EXACT COPY of the regal coin, it was considered to be a token, and the law did not apply – hence the term evasion halfpennies. Thus, the counterfeiters simply switched from making counterfeit coins to making what became known as “evasion” tokens that looked similar to but not an exact copy of the regal coinage.

  • These pieces usually had a bust on the obverse — often a likeness of King George III, or some other well-known figure of the times.
  • Usually the images would be the same but the motto “Georgius III Rex” would be changed to “George Rules”, “Georgius  III Pax”, “Britain Rules” or such like
  • Sometimes the portrait of the king  would face in the wrong direction
  • More often than not, the bust was of someone else (but looked vaguely similar)
An example of an Irish evasion halfpenny token - so long as the piece looked reasonably similar to the real coins, the public were likely to accept them – and given that over 60% of the halfpennies in circulation were fakes – this wasn’t difficult. The public accepted them for a variety of reasons.

An example of an Irish evasion halfpenny token – so long as the piece looked reasonably similar to the real coins, the public were likely to accept them – and given that over 60% of the halfpennies in circulation were fakes – this wasn’t difficult.

The public accepted them for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, there was a desperate need for small change and a chronic shortage of copper coinage existed. Secondly, the average person in the street could not read, and although the law discerned between correct and incorrect legends, it seems that the average person could not.

  • 2 regal halfpennies produced enough material for 3 evasion halfpennies, hence an instant profit of 50%
  • it was definitely a profitable, low-risk activity for the counterfeiters

Who produced Evasion Halfpennies?

The manufacturers were contemporary counterfeiters and they operated ‘border line illegal’ mints, so they rarely include their names. Sometimes, an initial can be seen on the rare ‘higher grade’ specimens but most were deliberately produced in very poor condition as to pass for regal coins.

In the 1790’s, Birmingham was home to fifteen token making manufacturers many of whom were described in local trade directories as button makers. Among these were William Lutwyche and Peter Kempson, who apparently were also responsible for producing ‘evasions’, especially between 1796 and 1798, when orders for trade tokens diminished.

  • William Lutwyche is a very well known manufacturer of ‘conder’ or trade tokens
  • He is, perhaps, best known for his many deliberate ‘mules’ specially made for the lucrative collectors’ market of the day

There is at least one exception where, uniquely, a manufacturer actually had the cheek to “sign” his name !

William Bagnall's evasion halfpenny

William Bagnall’s signed evasion halfpenny – he was obviously very complacent about the legality of doing so.

William Bagnall’s production of ‘signed’ evasion halfpennies obviously brought his name to the attention of the City of London Police in 1815 when he and both of his sons were found themselves in court, for counterfeiting offences.

Source: Annual Register of World Events Vol 57 (1816) – A Review of the Year 1815.

William Bagnall, the elder (1769-1827), William Bagnall, the younger, and Thomas Bagnall, a father and his two sons, were placed at the bar, and tried  for coining and counterfeiting certain silver pieces, resembling the dollars issued by the Governor and Company of the Bank of England.

John Foy, a police officer, deposed, that the prisoners lived at No. 9, Seward-street, Clerkenwell, and that he having received information from some of the neighbours whose houses overlooked Bagnall‘s workshop, repaired there, accompanied by his brother and two others. They waited till they heard the machine at work, and then two of them knocked at the front door, whilst two entered from behind. The elder Bagnall opened the door, and on securing him they found four dollars apparently new, and resembling those issued by the Bank, in his hand. The eldest son was observed to drop six similar pieces on the approach of the officers. The machine or press was so heavy that to work it with ease and expedition, he believed would require the exertions of three persons. Besides the pieces found on the. two elder prisoners, there was an iron tray containing one Spanish dollar, several with the impression hammered out, and a paper parcel containing thirty fit for currency. To the identity of these, as well as of the dies for making the impression, he could speak positively, having made his marks upon them at the time. On taking the prisoners into custody, the elder Bagnall observed, that he trusted the officer would represent the business in the most favourable light, as he had not employed base metal, but had only changed the impression of genuine Spanish dollars.

The elder Bagnall then put in a written paper, in which he solemnly declared that he never had the intention to commit a fraud, nor any knowledge that he was transgressing the laws of his country. He had made the dollars in the course of his business as a dye-sinker, and in the execution of an order which he had received from a person, who said he intended to circulate them in Holland. Whatever the Court might determine with respect to himself, he hoped they would consider his sons as innocent, and as acting under his influence. He should call witnesses, who he trusted would prove that up to this period of his unintentionally erring, he had maintained the character of an honest man.  Several witnesses gave the prisoners an excellent character, and stated that the machine in question was employed by the Bagnalls, as dye-sinkers and ornamental engravers.  

  • The jury, after a few minutes consideration, found all the prisoners guilty; but recommended the two sons, one of whom is 26, and the other 18 years of age, to pardon, as acting under paternal influence.
  • Sentence: 14 years transportation.

The National Archives show that;

  • The 2 sons were later pardoned by John Silvester, Recorder of London in 1816.
    • Grounds for clemency: the jury recommended mercy at the trial of the prisoners, both of previous good conduct and the distress of the prisoner’s families, especially Thomas who has a pregnant wife and 2 children now near starvation.
  • William Bagnall (The elder), one of 201 convicts transported on “Fame”, 09 October 1816  to New South Wales, Australia.
    (State Records: New South Wales Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825)

The economic disadvantages

Although highly profitable to the manufacturers, the use of these ‘lightweight’ evasion halfpennies was disadvantageous to the end user. There were two ways that this would manifest itself.

  1. The merchant, upon being offered a group of these lightweight coppers, could weigh them — and give the customer only the value of the coppers based on weight
  2. The other method the merchant could use was to increase his prices to cover his losses when trying to redeem the token coinage

Either way, the customer was cheated if he had accepted the “coin” at full value. In line with Gresham’s Law, this ‘bad money’ tended to stay in circulation whereas the regal coinage was kept out of circulation.

Nearly all are found in lower grades because they were deliberately MADE to look worn, so that the public would accept them. As such, grades are not really important — many were struck so weakly that the finest known is “fair.”

Some are common, but most are scarce to rare. They were first listed by Atkins in 1891 and, more recently, by Cobwright (1993). Most all have a bust on the obverse, and either a Seated figure or a Harp on the reverse. This list only contains those with a harp on the obverse.

Like the earlier Voce Populi tokens of George III, evasion halfpennies found their way to the American colonies in large numbers where it was taking time for the new American currency to be accepted.

Early American colonists used English, Spanish and French money while they were under English rule. However, in 1775, when the Revolutionary War became inevitable, the Continental Congress authorized the issuance of currency to finance the conflict. Paul Revere made the first plates for this “Continental Currency.” Those notes were redeemable in Spanish Milled Dollars. The depreciation of this currency gave rise to the phrase “not worth a Continental.” To rectify this, the USA began to mint silver dollars in 1794 – albeit a mere 1,758 pieces were minted.

On March 5, 1787, the New York State  legislature produced a report discussing the  principle coppers then in circulation. Two min findings emerged from their survey :-

  1. A few genuine British  half-pence of George the Second, and some of an  earlier date, the impressions of which are  generally defaced.
  2. A number of Irish  half-pence, with a bust on one side and a harp  on the other.

From this, and related reports, it  has been suggested that all George III halfpence in  America were either contemporary counterfeits or evasion tokens. Although most were  indeed counterfeit, it seems a few regal George III coppers  did circulate in America.

After the U.S. Constitution was ratified, Congress passed the “Mint Act” of April 2, 1792, which established the coinage system of the United States and the dollar as the principal unit of currency. By this Act the U.S., became the first country in the world to adopt the decimal system for currency. The first U.S. coins were struck in 1793 at the Philadelphia Mint and presented to Martha Washington. Gradually, they phased out all of the foreign coins and underweight tokens that circulated prior to the mid-1790’s.

List of Known “Irish” Evasion Halfpennies

These counterfeits were not necessarily manufactured in Ireland or for circulation in Ireland – they merely have an Irish harp on the reverse design. We now know that many were manufactured in Birmingham and at least one, infamously issued by the Bagnall’s of Clerkenwell in London. Many ended up in the newly independent American Colonies, although at this stage, Britain did not fully recognise their independence or borders, leading to the less well known Anglo-American War of 1812-1815.

They also seem to have circulated in England, despite looking like the Irish regal halfpennies and farthings. Although the banks accepted “Irish money” at 13 pennies to the English shilling, it seems these counterfeit Irish halfpennies remained in circulation – the English public were obviously not as discerning as the English banks.

Key to table below

  • Aitkins Catalogue Number
  • Bust = L(eft) or R(ight) facing
  • Many of the obverses do not feature King George III and those that do, have a fictional or deliberately blundered legend
  • All of these coins have a harp on the reverse + fictional or deliberately blundered legends
  • Most of the dates bear no relation to when the coins were struck + many dates are completely absent
Aitkins Bust Obverse Reverse (Harp) Date
3 R. ALFRED  THE GREAT * MUSIC . CHARMS
4 R. ALFRED  THE GREAT * SOUTH WALES *
6 L. ALFRED . THE . GREAT SHEBERNIA .:. 17-96
8 R. AUCTORI * * PLEBIS * HISPAINIOLA 17-36
15 L. AUCTORI * * PLEBIS * NORTH WALES 1769
16 L. AUCTORI * * PLEBIS * NORTH WALES 1799
17 L. AUCTORI * * PLEBIS *  (longer ribbons) MUSIC * CHARMS . 1775
21 L. AUCTORI * * PLEBIS * MUSIC * CHARMS 17-75
22 L. BRUTUS SEXTUS (with T F under) DELECTAT RUS *
29 L. CELESTIN II POPE . NORTH WALES TOKEN
30 L. CELESTIN II POPE . NORTH WALES 17-69
32 L. CELESTIN II POPE . NORTH . WALES 1761
43 L. CLAUDUIS . ROMANUS . HEBRIDES 17-81
44 L. CLAUDUIS . ROMANUS . HIBERNIA 17-71
45 L. CLAUDUIS . ROMANUS . NORTH . WALES 17-71
46 R. CLAUDUIS ROMANUS DELECTAT . RUS *
58 R. CLAUDUIS: ROMANUS . MUSIC CHARMS
59 L. CLEMENT PONT MAX HINC . NOSTRÆ. CREVERE.ROSÆ.
61 L. COLONEL KIRK. NORTH WALES.
62 L. COLONEL KIRK. * NORTH WALES *
63 L. COLONEL KIRK. NORTH WALES 17-95
64 L. COLONEL KIRK. NORTH WALES 17-96
80 R. CORNWAL  LIS . IND. HIBERNIA 17-76
81 R. CORNWAL  LIS . IND. HIRARMIA 17-69
82 R. CORNWAL  LIS . IND. HIBERIA 17-76
87 R. CORNWAL LIS  IND HIBERIA
88 R. CORNWAL LIS  IND HIBERNIA 17-76
93 R. DUKE OF BEDFORD * MUSIC CHARMS *
94 R. DUKE OF YORK BRITANNIA S HERO
96 R. DUKE OF  . YORKE HALFPENNY 17-81
97 R. DUKE OF  . YORKE HIBERNIA 17-69
99 R. GANGES .III. RATE . STRATFOR DENSIS . 17-81
100 R. GBOIUISR INI RAX HIBERNTA 1766
113 R. GEORCIVS III KEX NORTH WALES
118 L. GEORGE GORDON SOUTH WALES 17-96
126 R. GEORGE GORDON NORTH WALES 1769
128 L. GEORGE IL MAG NORTH WALES  TOKEN
132 L. GEORGEIVS WASHINGTON * NORTH WALES *
132a L. GEORGEIVS WASHINGTON Edge: Payable in LANCA ONDON OR BRISTOL * NORTH WALES *
133 L. GEORGEIVS WASHINGTON * * NORTH WALES * *
135 R. GEORGE LII REN YELARIES 17-71
136 R. GEORGEON IL PES HIBERNIA 16-96
137 R. GEORGE REIGNS SOUTH WALES 17-96
143 L. GEORGE REIGNS SOUTH WALES 17-96
146 L. GEORGE  RULE DELECT TATRUS 17-71
151 L. GEORGE . RULED . BRITAIN’S ISLES 17-56
165 L. GEORGE.  RULES. (No dot before Rules) NORTH WALES 17-69
167 L. GEORGE .. RULES. DELECT TATRUS 17-71
168 L. GEORGE .. RULES. NORTH WALES 17-81
170 L. GEORGE . RULES . I.G. HEBRIDES 17-81
171 L. GEORGE RULES (No dots or initials) HILAR IES 17-71
172 L. GEORGE RULES (No dots or initials) HISPAN IOLA. 17-36
173 L. GEORGE RULES (No dots or initials) NORTH WALES 17-60
174 L. GEORGE RULES (No dots or initials) NORTH WALES 17-69
175 L. GEORGE RULES (No dots or initials) NORTH WALES 17-71
176 L. GEORGE RULES (No dots or initials) NORTH WALES J7.7J
177 L. GEORGE RULES (No dots or initials) NORTH WALES 17-75
178 L. GEORGE . RULES I.G. NORTH WALES J7-8J
179 L. GEORGE . RULES I.G.   (T under) NORTH WALES J7-8J
180 L. GEORGE RULES NORTH WALES 17-82
182 R. GEORGE RULES BRITAIN’S . ISLES 1756
185 R. GEORGE . RULES . NORTH WALES 17-56
186 R. GEORGE . RULES . (rude workmanship) NORTH WALES 17-61
187 R. GEORGE . RULES . NORTH WALES 17-69
188 R. GEORGE . RULES . NORTH WALES 17-75
189 R. GEORGE . RULES . NORTH WALES 17-82
190 R. GEORGE . RULES . NORTH WALES 17-82
191 R. GEORGE . RULES . NORTHWALES 17-82
193 R. GEORGE . RULES . HEREKNIA 1769
194 R. GEORGE . RULES . HIBEKNIA T D 1760
200 L. GEORGES . RULES . HEBR IDES 1771
206 R. GEORGE SUSSEX NORTH WALES 17-61
210 R. GEORGE . TEL . REN . YELAREBIH 17-77
214 R. GEORGIUS III REX NORTH WALES 1782
222 L. GEORGIVS.II  REX . HIBERNIA 17 51
223 R. GEORGIVS.II  REX . HIBERNIA 17 81
228 R. GEORGIVS III REX HIBERNIA 1769
229 R. GEORGIVS III REX HIBERNIA 1781
231 R. GEORGIVS TIL REN HIDERALA 17-69
235 L. GEORGUIS II REX HIBERNIA 17-76
241 R. GEOR IOUS III VIS NORTH  WALES 17-61
249 R. GEORUGIS III. RUX HIBERNIA 17-76
251 R. GEOTUISR INI RAX HIBERNTA 17-66
260 R. GLACIOUS  DEI . PAX HEBRIDES 17(  )
266 R. GLORIOVS  III VES HEBRIDES  “ 17-81
267 R. GLORIOVS  III VES HIBEKNIA
275 R. GLORIOVS . IER . VES . HEBRIDES 17-91
276 L. GLORIOVS . IER VIS . HIRAROSA . 17-69
284 R. GLORIOVS . IER VIS . NORTH WALES 17-61
291 L. GLORIOVS  PELLEW . * MUSIC CHARMS
298 R. GLORIOUS . TIL . ROX . HOS SANNA . 17-61
299 R. GLORIVS  IER . VES HEBRIDES 17-81
303 R. GLORIUS  IES . VES HEBRIDES 17-79
308 L. . GOD SAVE THE KING NO BE BGTA 16 96
313 R. GOD.SAVE.THE.KING. MUSIC * CHARMS 17-75
314 R. GOD SAVE THE KING BE AS YOU SEEM TO BE 1796
316 R. GOD SAVE THE KING * NORTH * * WALES *
319 R. GOD SAVE THE REALM MUSIC * CHARMS 17-75
323 L. GOD SAVE US ALL . HIBERNIA 16-96
324 L. GOD SAVE US ALL . MUSIC * CHARMS 17-75
325 L. GOD SAVE US ALL . NOBEBGTA 16-96
326 L. GOD SAVE US ALL . * NORTH * * WALES *
330 R. GOERGIUV . III . PAX HIBEKNIA 17-69
333 L. GORDIUS REYS DELECTATRUS 17-81
337 R. GORDIUS REYS DELECTATRUS 17-81
338 R. GORDIUS REYS HEBRIDES 17-81
339 R. GORGIVS III . REX . HIBERNIA 17-81
343 R. GREGORIVS .III. PON . HEBRIDES 17-81
347 R. GREGORVS III PAX HEBRIDES 17-81
348 R. GREGORVS III PAX HEBRIDES 17-97
352 L. GREGORY . TI . ROW . HIBERNIA (?) 17-71
353 L. GREGORY . TI . ROW . NORTH WALES 17-71
372 R. GRUMRUIS .  ITI NEX HIBERNIA 17-76
373 R. GRUMRUIS .  ITI NEX HIRARMIA . 17-76
374 R. GSOIUISE .  INI . BAX NTBRRNIA 17-66
387 R. GSOIUISE .  INI . BAX MUSIC * CHARMS 17-75
388 R. GSOIUISE .  INI . BAX STRATFOR DIENSIS . 17-81
389 L. GULIELMUS SHAKSPEAR HISPAN NIOLA 17-91
392 R. GULIEMUS SHAKESPEAR * NORTH * * WALES *
400 R. IOHN KEMP . NORTH WALES 17-96
402 R. IOHN SON PUGALIST * MUSIC CHARMS
403 R. IOHN SON PUGALIST * NORTH * * WALES *
404 R. IOHN SON PUGALIST * * NORTH WALES * *
408 R. LONG LIVE THE KING . NORTH . WALES 17-61
410 R. LONG LIVE THE KING . * MUSIC CHARMS
412 R. LONG LIVE THE KING . . FRAN . ET . NAVR . 17-71
413 L. MAY.PEACE.BE.ESTABLISHED HILA RIAS . FRAN . ET . NAVR .
414 R. OLIVER CROMWELL * SOUTH  WALES *
416 R. PAYAYLE*AT.I.WILLIAMS. MUSIC * CHARMS 17-75
419 L. PAYABLE.AT.W.WILLIAMS. NORTH WALES 17-82
422 L. PAYABLE.AT.W.WILLIAMS. NORTH * WALES
425 L. PAYABLE . AT . WM . DELECTAT RUS *
426 R. PRINCEPS WALLIÆ . DELECTAT  * RUS *
428 R. QUINTUS SEXTUS . MUSIC * CHARMS .
435 R. SR BEVOIS SOUTHAMTON * NORTH *  * WALES *
436 R. SR BEVOIS SOUTHAMTON (Hair tied with 2 bows) * NORTH *  * WALES *
437 R. SR BEVOIS SOUTHAMTON (One bow and an end) * NORTH *  * WALES *
438 R. SR BEVOIS SOUTHAMTON  (Helmed) * NORTH *  * WALES *
440 L. THOMAS SEYMOUR . * MUSIC CHARMS
441 L. THOMAS SEYMOUR . (Larger and older bust) * MUSIC CHARMS
442 L. THOMAS SEYMOUR . (Larger and older bust) * SOUTH WALES *
443 R. THOMAS SEYMOUR . * * NORTH WALES * *
446 L. WILLIAM WILLIAMS HIBERNIA 17-66
448 L. WILLIAM S WILLIAMS * NORTH * * WALES *

Irish Evasion Farthings

The list of Evasion Farthings with an Irish harp on the reverse is a short one !

Aitkins Bust Obverse Reverse (Harp) Date
453 R. GEOGIS BEX BRITANNIA 1777

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4 thoughts on “O’Brien Coin Guide: Irish Evasion Halfpennies (1770s to the 1790s)

  1. I have collected two Atkins #443’s Thomas Seymour North Wales with the two cinqufoils on either side of the Harp with the same reverse die as that of the Atkins #133 Gerogeivs Washington. I bought them from a British coin dealer years ago. I also connected these together because I found that George Washington was a forth cousin, seven times removed from Jane Seymour and Thomas Seymour. I also believe that the Thomas Seymour Evasion Coin came first and when the Obverse Die cracked in half (broke) as it is known, they used a George Washington Obverse Die combined with the same Reverse Die and distressed that Die used with the Thomas Seymour Obverse so that they did not appear the same. I know the Washington Evasion Coin is quite rare (only about 10 known) and it is believed so is the Thomas Seymour with the same Reverse Die and neither Baker or Breen even knew this combination existed. I first one to show up in the United States wasn’t until 2009. Have you heard or seen this particular coin?

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    • I have not seen that particular coin but, as per my article, evasion halfpennies were produced by a multitude of coin counterfeiters who stayed “within an inch of the law” but operated well outside of the spirit of the law. As such, the variations of their work were limited only by their imagination, tools and materials at the time – so I fully expect that many new variations will be discovered in the future.

      Evasion halfpennies is a great area for original research – they transcend Irish, English, American Colonial and post-Independence numismatic history. One never knows what builders may find when they are renovating or demolishing old houses on either side of the Atlantic.

      I just put my article (with a sub-set of the Irish themed examples) online in the hope that specialists like your good self will come forward with new discoveries such as this one. Do any of the numismatic society members ever collaborate by comparing lists?
      I’d be happy to help in any way I can.

      Best regards
      James

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  2. Thank you for replying. I wanted to send you a photo of the coin but this site doesn’t allow me to do so. In further looking into this coin I am finding that it is extremely rare and may be as rare as the GEORGEIVS WASHINGTON Evasion Coin with two cinqufoils on either side of the harp at bottom and this coin and having the older large THOMAS SEYMOUR bust facing right. Along with the two I have, I have only been able to find one other out there and it is almost broken in two which goes along with the story of the broken Obverse Die. Both also have plain edges. I have also see only one IOHN SON PUGALIST with the same reverse. If there is a way to send you photos please let me know and I would be glad to do so.

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