Many people scoff at the thought of towns being so bereft of coinage for small change that they had to issue notes for very small amounts in Weimar Germany, Austria and France after the first world war, but a similar situation existed throughout Ireland in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Few people had silver or gold coins, and those who did, hoarded them and did not use them unless they really had to. Most of the smaller change in circulation was unofficial, illegal tokens. In short, there was a local currency crisis.
- The solution was small notes (an IOU) like the one below
- It reads IO (= I owe) threepence ha’penny !
Kinsale, ‘For the Convenience of Change I O the Bearer Threepence Halfpenny’, 17 October 1804, Serial Number: 9863. A 15mm split at top of central crease and a paper repair covering another split on top edge, a few tiny holes on folds, otherwise fine.
- This is a rare note since these IOU’s worked very well and most were paid off.
- This particular example was issued by Kinsale Town Corporation.
Was it a charitable initiative, or was there a mutual benefit? Most likely, a little bit of both for the Corporation officials may have used them as ‘change’ when traders paid their fees/taxes on market day.
- Small traders would not have risked making a payment in tokens, or scrip.
- They would have had to use ‘good silver coins’ which were in short supply.
- With such a high percentage of low value tokens circulating, the Corporation officials might have felt unable to give change in tokens either.
- This might have been a solution for their fiscal dilemma.
Other towns and corporations issued their own copper tokens for this purpose, e.g. farthings, halfpenny and penny tokens in Belfast, Cork, Dublin and Waterford over the centuries. Many of their tokens bear the words “for public benefit” and “for the poor” or such like. This is an unusual example of paper being used for such a small amount.
This brings us to another problem, i.e. what do we call it?
- A bank did not issue it, so its not a banknote.
- A trader didn’t issue it, so its not a trader’s note.
- Collectors call them IOU’s and they were quite common in the 19th C in Ireland.
If anyone has a serious interest in collecting Irish banknotes, an essential tool is the excellent book (Paper Money of Ireland) by Bob Blake & Jonathan Callaway (Publ. by Pam West). They list it under Sundry Issues – a short section from page 80 to 97.
- Paper Money of Ireland, Blake & Callaway, p. 87