TOKENS IN THE 17TH CENTURY
By Ian Sewell
This article was originally published in the April 2011 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Imagine shopping in pre-plastic days where the smallest coin you had was a pound coin and most items you bought were often less than that. This was the situation that faced many tradesmen and their customers in England in the turbulent period after the civil war and restoration of Charles II. Some nobles had a license from the crown to create small denomination coins but the demand outstripped supply as the economy grew.
The solution was for tradesmen to issue their own tokens to cover the shortage of copper farthings and half pennies. These tokens were usually made of tin, lead or copper and came in various shapes depending on who issues them. The shop keeper gave them out as change and accepted tokens from other suppliers which they kept until they had sufficient to take them to the originator and exchange them for silver coins or notes. This trade continued until 1672 when the mint finally started to issue the first copper farthings.
The tokens displayed here are for John Sewell a grocer in Colchester who was born c.1626 and died 1667 and are dated from 1653. John seems to have spent most of his life in Colchester and was a Quaker.