Angmering's 17th Century Token

(by Nicholas Sharp)

Until the late 1600's, English coinage was entirely in gold or silver. Whilst many silver farthings were issued in the reign's of Edward I and II, by the time Elizabeth I came to the throne, the smallest coin was the halfpenny. If you wanted a farthing, you simply cut a halfpenny in two or a penny into four. This led to the practice of 'clipping' becoming widespread and coinage being severely debased. It was not until the latter half of the 17th Century that milled coins were issued and that particular problem resolved.

In the reign of James I, Lord Harrington was given a patent for striking farthings in copper. Similar patents were issued in the next reign, but the privilege was grossly abused by the patentees, and their refusal to re-change these farthings caused so great a loss to tradesmen that, in consequence of public clamour, the coins were suppressed by Parliament in 1644. The death of Charles I in 1649 removed the exclusive royal prerogative of coining brass or copper money, and the dearth of small change being acute, the time was ripe for the large and widely spread issue of tokens.

The first token was issued in 1648 and by 1656 they had spread to all England's counties. In 1672, after the issue of new regal copper farthings and halfpennies, a proclamation was issued by the King which forbade the use and issue of tokens. Thus the tokens were cashed in and disappeared, having served a very useful purpose.

Sussex tokens were popular and much used, more so than most other counties. Also, many of the Sussex tokens had the word 'Sussex' on them, again more often than any other county, perhaps showing the pride Sussex men and women had in their county.

The tokens were usually struck in copper or brass. The commonest denomination was the farthing, followed by the halfpenny which did not appear before 1666. Originally the tokens were struck for traders, shopkeepers and, in particular, innkeepers and alehouses. A few were issued by the local authorities of the day. A great variety of trades, professions and occupations were indicated on the tokens, either in words or by designs used or, more frequently, by the representation of the arms of one of the local trade guilds or London Livery Companies. The businesses of grocers and mercers occasioned most of the need for tokens, with bakers, drapers, tallow chandlers and ironmongers also prominent. It is thought that the vast majority of tokens were made in London.

The basic type of 17th Century token bore an inscription or legend each side surrounding either a central device, a group of initials, or further inscription. Tokens nearly always bore the name of their issuers, whether traders or local authorities. The place name of issue is nearly always present. The issuers' initials are usually to be found in the centre in the form of a triangle. There is a wonderful variety of spelling for place names. Thus for Arundel, which issued 8 tokens, we have ARVNDELL, ARANDELL, ARONDELL, AROVNDELL, ARVNDLE and ARNDELL - you can almost hear the Sussex accent coming across!

The number of tokens issued gives us some indication of the importance of the towns or villages at that time. Here are some examples: Chichester (28), Horsham (11), Petworth (11), Midhurst (8), Arundel (8), Lewes (6), Rye (6), Battle (6), Brighthelmstone (5), East Grinstead (4), Storrington (3), and Ticehurst (3). Other villages issued only one or two, if any at all. There was only one issued for Angmering (see photos). This was a halfpenny token issued by John Stone which bore the inscriptions: ReverseObverse

In towns where several traders had businesses in close proximity to one another, tokens of a known issuer would be acceptable in other shops, and boxes with small compartments were used to separate different ones. Nearby villages would no doubt have accepted each other's tokens. To give an idea of the vast numbers issued, London had in excess of 4000 separate issuers.

Seventeenth century tokens are not now easy to find and are mainly to be seen in museums and private collections.

Nicholas Sharp

(Reprinted from the June 2002 edition of The Angmering Society's Newsletter)