English Sign Names From 17th Century Tradesman's Tokens

by Mari ingen Briain meic Donnchada (Kathleen M. O'Brien)

© 2007-2010 by Kathleen M. O'Brien. All rights reserved.
Version 1.2, updated 07 April 2010

Tradesmen's Tokens

This article examines names and images found on Tradesmen's Tokens from mid-17th century England.

Tradesmen's Tokens are not widely discussed today, at least as compared to other types of coin, and so are not well known to non-numismatists. Wikipedia provides a good discussion of Tradesmen's Token at it's page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Token_coin

The section that applies to the 17th century tokens discussed in this article is:

From the 17th to the early 19th century in the British Isles and North America these were commonly issued by traders in times of acute shortage of coins of the state to enable trading activities to proceed. The token was in effect a pledge redeemable in goods but not necessarily for coins. These tokens never received official sanction from government but were accepted and circulated quite widely.

In England the production of copper farthings was permitted by royal licence in the first few decades of the 17th century, but production ceased during the English Civil War and a great shortage of small change resulted. This shortage was felt more keenly because of the rapid growth of trade in the towns and cities, and this in turn prompted both local authorities and private traders to issue tokens.

These tokens were most commonly made of copper or brass, but pewter, lead and occasionally leather tokens are also found. Most were not given a specific denomination and were intended to pass as farthings, but there are also a large number of halfpenny and sometimes penny tokens. Halfpenny and penny tokens usually, but not always, bear the denomination on their face.

Most such tokens indicate the name of their issuer, which might either be his or her full name or initials. Where initials were provided it was common practice to provide three, one for the surname and the other two for the first names of husband and wife. Tokens would also normally indicate the trading establishment concerned, either by name or by picture. Most were round, but they are also found in square, heart or octagonal shapes.

Thousands of towns and traders issued these tokens between 1648 and 1672, when official production of farthings resumed and private production was suppressed.

All of the tokens described in this article date from 1648-1672. While a large number do not contain a date on either the obverse or the reverse of the coin, those coins are dated to sometime in this period.

Data Patterns

The location names included in this article are taken from:

Akerman, John Yonge. Tradesmen's Tokens in London 1648-1672: Current in London and Its Vicinity Between The Years 1648 and 1672. (New York: Burt Franklin, 1969 reprint; originally published 1849).

I went through my copy of this book and only transcribed the description of tokens that listed both a sign name and an image that related to that sign name. From these examples, we can draw relationships between the images that would have been displayed on signs and the words that 17th century people would have connected with those images.

In the majority of cases, the name patterns seen in these tokens are also found in sign names earlier. For example, the pattern [color + animal] is found in the name Whytehorse dated to 1312 on p. 230 of:

Ewen, C. L'Estrange, A History of Surnames of the British Isles (Originally pubished: London, 1931. Reprinted for Clearfield Company, Inc. by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. Baltimore, Maryland, 1993, 1995).

In addition to general construction patterns that are seen in the sign names on these tokens, there are also several words or phrases used to indicate the type of establishment. These words are often refered to as Designators because they designate the type of establishment. They are terms such as Alehouse, Inn, Tavern, etc.

In this article, I have created lists for both:

Sources Discussing Tradesmen's Tokens:

The source I used for this article was a hardcopy of:

Akerman, John Yonge. Tradesmen's Tokens in London 1648-1672: Current in London and Its Vicinity Between The Years 1648 and 1672. (New York: Burt Franklin, 1969 reprint; originally published 1849).

The 1969 edition may be found in Google Book Search (preview available) at:

The 1849 edition may be found in Google Book Search (full view available) at:

Another good source for information on tradesmen's tokens is:

Boyne, William and George Charles Williamson. Trade Tokens Issued in the Seventeenth Century in England, Wales, and Ireland: By Corporations, Merchants, Tradesmen, Etc. Illustrated by Numerous Plates and Woodcuts, and Containing Notes of Family, Heraldic, and Topographical Interest Respecting the Various Issuers of the Tokens. (E. Stock, 1889).

This book has a full view available at Google Book Search (http://books.google.com/books?id=6_0WAAAAYAAJ).

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