Irish Tokens

Introduction

This website is updated on a frequent basis, so do please ‘re-visit’ as often as you can. This particular page is intended as a catalogue and image library of Irish trade tokens and unofficial coinages from the 17th century onwards.  By way of illustrating what we buy and sell, please link to our Pinterest image pages and/or read the relevant blog posts on Irish numismatic and exonumia topics.  All of the hyperlinks (in blue) link to a Pinterest image gallery, unless otherwise stated, e.g. O’Brien Coin Guide, Blog Post, etc.
Dublin T O Bryen farthing token Plain edge D&H 388

Dublin, T O’Bryen farthing token, plain edge D&H 388

Please note: this is a constant “work in progress” and I will be adding more links + more images on an on-going basis.  Collectors are quite welcome to send me images of coins that I do not already have, or better images of the one’s I have posted.The concepts behind this page are as follows :-

  • Irish tokens are placed in their historical context
  • Relevant historical articles will be added to give additional insights into why these tokens were issued / withdrawn
  • The technical details, such as dates, varieties, proofs and patterns are all listed
  • Where possible, the multiplicity of commercial or academic reference numbers are correlated and simplified
  • We all have a single reference point and image source to share

What is a token ?

Exonumia are numismatic items (such as tokens, medals, or scrip) other than coins and paper money. This includes “Good For” tokens, badges, counter-stamped coins, elongated coins, encased coins, souvenir medallions, tags, wooden nickels and other similar items. It is related to numismatics (concerned with coins which have been legal tender), and many coin collectors are also exonumists.

Due to intermittent chronic shortages of copper coins in our history, unofficial coins were produced and circulated by traders and, sometimes, unscrupulous metal dealers to pass as coins.

  • One source, in 1753 cites that no more than 40% of the coins in circulation in Ireland were genuine.
  • By 1771, the problem was even worse and magistrates ordered searches and to destroy coining machinery
  • The laws covering counterfeiting of coins were very specific and there was a loophole, i.e. if there were sufficient differences between the tokens and the genuine coins, the law deemed them not to be attempts at replication.  During the reign of George III, in both Ireland and Great Britain, this legal loophole gave rise to what became known as ‘evasion coppers’ and they are, arguably, something that falls in between coins and tokens.

The public accepted the evasion coppers and the various other unofficial token coins for a variety of reasons.

  • First and foremost, there was a desperate need for small change because the authorities were not issuing enough
  • Secondly, the average Irishman could not read, and if the coin offered looked ‘similar’ to the coin they were used to, it would be accepted.

However, the use of these tokens was a decided disadvantage to the ‘end user’ and not the shopkeeper.  There were two scenarios that could happen :-

  • 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.
  • 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.

When does a token become a coin ?

Most tokens have a local use, a local history and a local raison d’être.  Some tokens, for a variety of reasons, achieved widespread usage / circulation and, as such, were actually used as a regional or national currency.  Some, when finally rejected by their original circulation populace, were exported (in bulk or piecemeal) to another location where they were accepted as coinage, e.g. the St Patrick’s coinage and the Voce Populi coinage.

  • These two enigmatic types + the evasion coppers eventually made their way to the American colonies
  • They are now considered, by American collectors, to be a part of their Early Colonial numismatic heritage.
  • The definitions are somewhat hazy

In Ireland, the Bank of Ireland tokens of George III were distributed nationwide and are considered by Irish collectors to be a part of our numismatic heritage.  Although the Bank of Ireland acted as a central bank, it did not have official status as such, so when it decided to issue its own tokens in good silver, the directors of the bank were careful not to imitate any regal coinage denominations – therefore it issued tokens valued at 5d, 10d and 6 shillings. The issuer was careful not to imitate a denomination of a coin of the realm and, therefore, ‘avoid prosecution’ under the Counterfeit Currency Acts.

  • These Bank of Ireland tokens were minted by the Royal Mint in London to their Sterling standard
  • Due to a chronic shortage of silver coins, they were de facto currency in Ireland at that time
  • In the strictest sense, they are termed tokens

Another example of coinage of good silver were the now rare Castlecomer Colliery tokens, issued at 5 shillings and 5d – the Irish equivalent of 5 shillings Sterling !

The gunmoney of James II is not, in the strictest sense, a coin of the realm since James had abdicated and his ‘new’ coins were not coins of the realm. Without any backing from the Bank of England (or any other central bank) he created what was (at that time) a ‘notional’ currency with ‘no real value’ – just a promise to pay at a later date – provided he won the impending war.  Derided as “worthless brass tokens” at the time by his enemies, his ‘great idea’ almost immediately gave rise to promissory banknotes (William II, his nemesis, allowed the Bank of England to do so) and, by 1990 … less than 300 years later … every country in the world was using ‘notional’ currencies for transactions. This idea was first proposed by James’s advisor in Dublin – Dr William Bromfield – a surgeon, financier, politician and, sometimes, spy !

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Early Irish Token Coinages

13th C Irish Innkeeper’s Tokens

The earliest recorded usage of tokens in Ireland dates back to the 13th C. They have been dated to the period immediately proceeding the introduction of the round farthing by Edward I in 1279 AD. It is possible that pewter tokens such as these were declared illegal before this consignment of coins was put into circulation and this led to their disposal en masse in the pit (NMI 1985, p. 18).

They were discovered inside a wood-lined cess-pit, where the tokens had been discarded sometime in the 13th century. They were closely clumped together, suggesting that the coins were deposited within an organic bag, possibly a leather purse or satchel.

These distinctive pewter tokens were found by Brendán O’Riordáin during his archaeological excavations at Winetavern Street in Dublin. As its name suggests, this street was once famous for its taverns and it is likely that the tokens were originally used by local inn-keepers when normal coinage was scarce.

These distinctive pewter tokens were found by Brendán O’Riordáin during his archaeological excavations at Winetavern Street in Dublin during the 1970’s. As its name suggests, this street was once famous for its taverns and it is likely that the tokens were originally used by local inn-keepers when normal coinage was scarce.

In all 2,061 pewter tokens were uncovered, the majority of which contained a figure on one side, depicting either a human or an animal (an armorial device was found on the reverse). Some of the figures used included an ecclesiastic with a crozier, a pilgrim carrying a staff and drinking bowl, a bear-like animal, a deer wounded by an arrow and pairs of confronted birds.

Since there are no mint marks, moneyer names or any other distinctively Irish markings on these tokens, we cannot be certain they were struck locally, or if they were imported by the innkeeper(s).

References

  • National Museum of Ireland, 1985 Viking and Medieval Dublin, An Roinn Oideachais, Dublin
  • Ó Ríordán, A.B. 1971 ‘Excavations at High Street & Winetavern Street, Dublin’,  Medieval Archaeology 15, 73-85

16th C Irish Tokens

To date, only one Irish token has been found that can be positively ascribed to the 16th century and this is now in the possession of the British National Museum in London. The museum purchased it at auction in 1934 and it came from the famous Samuel Lionel-Fletcher collection, via the cabinet of Mr Roach Smith, of London (1852).

The token of Adam Dulan, bearing date 1578, is much larger than the typical 17th C tradesmens' tokens and is composed of lead. It is evidently one of the farthing tokens which were in such vogue in England in the reign of queen Elizabeth, owing to the scarcity of small change, and which were all composed of lead, whilst the penny tokens of the following century were chiefly of copper or brass.

The token of Adam Dulan, bearing date 1578, is much larger than the typical 17th C tradesmens’ tokens and is composed of lead. It is evidently one of the farthing tokens which were in such vogue in England in the reign of queen Elizabeth, owing to the scarcity of small change, and which were all composed of lead, whilst the penny tokens of the following century were chiefly of copper or brass.

This unique token was dredged up from the bed of the Thames and is very similar to contemporary tokens struck in France, which (combined with the three fleurs-de-lis on the shield) would suggest that the coin was issued by a French settler in Kilkenny, and not by one of the Irish Doolans, which the municipal archives prove to have been numerous in the city at that period.

  • It would appear that there was little need for ‘indigenous’ trade tokens in the 16th C
  • It is also unusual that the ‘only known example’ was found in London

O’Brien Coin Guides & Image Library

1660–1685 Charles II (Tokens) incl. those issued during The Interregnum

  • O’Brien Coin Guide: 17th C Tradesmens’ Tokens of Ireland (Annamoe – Cowrey) (218)
  • O’Brien Coin Guide: 17th C Tradesmens’ Tokens of Ireland (Dingle – Gowran) – coming soon !
  • O’Brien Coin Guide: 17th C Tradesmens’ Tokens of Ireland (Hacketstown – Lurgan)
  • O’Brien Coin Guide: 17th C Tradesmens’ Tokens of Ireland (Maherafelt – Youghal)

1727–1760 George II (Tokens)

1760–1820 George III (Tokens)

1820–1830 George IV (Tokens)

  • Checklist of Early 19th C Irish Tokens (George IV)
  • O’Brien Coin Guide: The Unofficial Irish Token Coinages of George IV (1820-1830)  – coming soon !

1830–1837 William IV (Tokens)

1837–1901 Queen Victoria (Tokens)

20th C Irish Tokens

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Further reading :-

Irish Token Guides & Catalogues

Many Irish tokens found their way to the American colonies and were used there, e.g. Woods Halfpennies, the Voce Populi tokens and our Evasion halfpennies. These are well known, thoroughly researched and heavily collected, but there is so much more to early American numismatics and it is worthwhile to trawl through their token catalogues to see how many of our less well known tokens managed to get there and circulate. Many Irish merchants emigrated and set up business there and some even issued their own tokens.

  • Alabama Trade Tokens by Roy J. Wood, Birmingham Public Library Press
  • Alaska Tokens by Ron Benice, TAMS Copyright New Edition
  • Alaska Tokens by Ron Benice, TAMS Copyright 1979, ISBN 0-91849-2033
  • Arizon Tokens by Hal Birt, Jr Copyright 1979
  • Arkansas Merchant Tokens by Tom H. Robinson, TAMS Copyright 1985, ISBN 0-918492-07-6
  • California Tokens by Charles V. Kappen, TAMS Copyright 1976, ISBN: 0918492025
  • California Tokens by Charles V. Kappen, Copyright 1994 Reprint
  • A Guide to Colorado Merchant Trade Tokens by Stuart M. Pritchard Jr. Copyright 2008, 425 pages
  • Colorado Merchants’ Tokens by Jim Wright, Copyright 1977, 340 pages, ASIN: B0006CUO58
  • Colorado Merchants’ Tokens by Jim Wright, Copyright 1979, 74 pages, ASIN: B0006XKZVU
  • Colorado Merchant Tokens by James Wright & Herbert Lee Nott 1986
  • Delaware Merchant Tokens by William T. Miller TAMS Journal April 1988
  • Florida Trade Tokens by C.R. Clark, Copyright 1980
  • Georgia Trade Tokens by Randall Partin & J. D. Partin 1990
  • Illinois – Trade Tokens of Illinois by Ore H. Vacketta, Copyright 1973
  • Indiana Trade Tokens by Lloyd E. Wagaman 1981
  • Iowa Trade Tokens by Lewis K. Ferguson, TAMS Copyright 1984, ISBN 0-918492-06-8
  • Kansas Merchant Tokens by Kent Johnson and Larry Oller
  • Louisiana Trade Tokens by Louis Crawford and Glyn Farber, TAMS Copyright 1996, ISBN 0-918492-11-4
  • Louisiana Trade Tokens by Louis Crawford, Glyn Farber & Ed Tylenda, Copyright 1982
  • Maryland Merchant Tokens by David E. Schenkman, Copyright 1986 ISBN: 0961694505
  • Michigan Trade Tokens by Paul A. Cunningham, Copyright 1987, ISBN 0-945008-00-7
  • Mississippi Brozenes and Doodlum (Private Money in MS) by George P. Chatham, Copyright 1990,
  • Ohio Merchant Tokens by Gaylor Lipscomb 1986
  • Oklahoma Tokens by Lloyd C. Walker, Copyright 1978
  • Oregon Trade Tokens Tokens by James Hemphill, Copyright 1992, ISBN: 0912317140
  • South Carolina Tokens by Tony Chibbaro, Copyright, ISBN: 0918492092
  • Texas The Trade Tokens of Texas by Fowler, Roberts, Strough TAMS Journal April 1973
  • Texas The Trade Tokens of Texas Supplement by Fowler, Strough TAMS Journal February 1979
  • Texas The Trade Tokens of Texas 2nd Supplement by Fowler & Ribbe TAMS Journal 1984
  • Texas The Trade Tokens of Texas 3nd Supplement by Fowler & Ribbe 1993
  • Utah – Campbells Tokens of Utah by Harry F. Campbells paperback (rare) 1987
  • West Virginia Merchants Tokens by David Schenkman 2009
  • Washington State Trade Tokens by Al Erickson
  • Merchant tokens of Washington, D.C by David E. Schenkman, Copyright, ISBN:0942596005
The Old Currency Exchange is Ireland's leading retailer for collectible banknotes, coins and tokens

The Old Currency Exchange is Ireland’s leading retailer for collectible banknotes, coins and tokens

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If you have any queries regarding Irish tokens or other para-numismatic topics, please email us on

old.currency.exchange@gmail.com

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Irish tokens are numerous, though not always easy to find, therefore I will be adding new images to each list on an on-going basis.  If you would like to see these images, please follow me on Twitter for immediate updates.

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2 thoughts on “Irish Tokens

  1. Hi could you identify this coin .I’ve tryed everything to find it but no luck .it’s 1663 .with a castle on one side and the other side says art tho good in march

    Like

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