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Exploring Tokens: Early Day Marketing Strategies

Markes Lambe, a surgeon in the Royal Navy, was from Bath, his mother Mary had a shop in that city selling fine tees and coffees and in the mid 1790s both issued their own ‘Halfpennies’ in order that they could give change in the shop and generally. With his military background he chose to feature on his halfpenny the Somerset Yeoman Cavalry, which had been raised to combat the expected Napoleonic invasion and a troop with which he well have been involved. His mother chose a camel to grace her coin, representing the East and all its allure to reflect the exotic qualities of her stock – both coins are around 30mm in breadth.

In the 1790s there was no official small copper change in the country. Britain was at war with France and the price of copper had risen causing the regal issue to ‘vanish’.  This caused tremendous hardship for small merchants and shop keepers throughout the country, for how were they to conduct the everyday transactions of selling small goods if they had no change. The Crown was busy with the war and any ‘unofficial’ production of coin of the realm would be seen as forgery which was punishable by hanging ! Eventually a Welsh mining company hit upon the idea of turning their copper straight into pennies and halfpennies, but calling them ‘tokens’ that were redeemable in official coin – thus avoiding the forgery problem. As they were the correct weight, no one bothered to change them and in the space of a year, merchants in every town in England started issuing their token pence !

On the edge of Mary Lambes’s halfpenny, pictured here, is the legend PAYABLE BY M. LAMBE & SON, thus stating that it was redeemable as a halfpenny token and not an actual halfpenny !

This solved the lack of small change in the 1790s and for ten years, until the government got its act together after the war and issued official copper coins. Throughout this last decade of the eighteenth century it is these copper ‘token’ pence and halfpence one would have had in one’s pocket, all over the country, as small change.

There were many merchants in Somerset issuing their own coppers, particularly in the towns of Bristol and Bath, and also other smaller localities such as Bridgewater, Taunton, Crewkerne, Yeovil Ilchester and Freshford

The halfpenny token used at Bridgewater in 1794 was issued by John Holloway who was a tailor and draper there but more importantly was also the postmaster in Bridgewater and it is this post office building which he portrays on his token. The actual address is not known but one researcher has possibly identified the building as being no. 3 Cornhill. Holloway was eventually dismissed from his position as postmaster in 1799 – for delaying delivery of the London newspapers because he was reading them  !

Auctioneers Niblock & Hunter were auctioneers in Bristol and they produced a marvellously quaint token with some pretty early ‘in your face’ advertising – two elegant Georgian gentleman are standing talking and one is saying ‘I want to buy some cheap bargains’ and the other replies ‘Then go to Niblock’s in Bridge Street’ and just in case there is any confusion as to which bridge Street this is, the other side has a view of Bristol Bridge !

The tokens for all these Somerset localities can be seen in an auction of 18th. century Tokens being held by A H Baldwin & Sons on the 25th. of May. This is one of the finest collections of these tradesmen’s tokens to come onto the market in many years and each piece can be viewed on  They provide a marvellous window into this last decade of the eighteenth century and almost every English town is represented in this collection.

Every English county is represented and nearly every English city and market town has a merchant or shopkeeper issuing their own coins and for ten years it was a truly a coinage ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’.

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