With footnotes on Brummagem, Forgery, and Arguroid Silver
People nowadays take coin of the realm so much for granted as the only physical way of paying for things that many will not realise that alternative coinages were still in circulation around the country as late as the 1950s. One particular family of businesses that made great use of them was the Co-operative Societies, and we can remember (when very young!) queuing with Grandma when she took her Co-op sharebook to change real money into Co-op tokens (known as "checks" in that part of Scotland and elsewhere), then used the tokens to buy goods at the adjacent counters, or to pay Co-op delivery roundsmen for commodities such as bread, milk and coal. The sharebook recorded the value of tokens bought, and was thus the basis of her "divi" - the famous Co-op dividend paid to members at intervals.
But these weren't the only users of tokens - in fact tokens have been in use for something like 400 years, and for a variety of trades. In a sense we still have them for things like company parking barriers, some car-wash units, and so on, and no doubt people can identify other uses still in operation - but they don't really act as coinage.
The Dudley area was an active user of tokens. We haven't looked deep into their history, but our interest was sparked by the photo below of the two sides of a token possessed by Malcolm Johnson in Australia. He'd just supplied us with images of two very attractive Richard Rayner paintings for our Rayner section, and as a follow-on sent this picture as well.
It isn't clear whether "W.B. Andrews, Dudley" is the manufacturer (as we now believe) or the trader, and there is no indication of the businesses where it would be accepted or the commodities it could be exchanged for. We haven't traced W.B. Andrews so far, so we're either looking in the wrong place or the company died or got taken over. However, we have had further information that says the token could date back to the late 1800s or more likely the early 1900s - but is possibly as late as 1950 from the style and metal content. Another collector notes that it is extremely unusual to see "England" appear on a token circulated in this country, so it may have been intended for use overseas - though that doesn't have to be the case. ("Arguroid Silver" is discussed in footnote 3 at the bottom of this page.)
Malcolm believes (and appears to be right) that trade tokens were issued in three specific periods, and he has owned or seen some of them. We've since come across a few for ourselves, so his original list has been added to - though we sometimes don't know who the traders were or what their business was. We'd appreciate enlightenment on that.
17th Century - Issued 1648-1672
Just over a century later, however, the industrial revolution was rapidly expanding its workforce and creating a much greater need for low value change-coins. Worse, those Government-issued coins already in circulation were being illegally melted down because their copper content had made them worth more than their face value, and spurious coins were being issued in their place. To ameliorate their own difficulties, businesses began issuing tokens to their workers.
18th Century - Issued 1787-1797
Halfpennies: (no images to hand)
One does wonder about some of the words on these tokens. After all, the French Revolution began in 1789 and it was not long before we were fighting them in a war that with minor breaks continued until 1815. Yet Britannia and the dismayed lion could both suggest antipathy to the British government, and who are the "we" in "we were born free..."?
Farthings: (no images to hand)
19th Cent. Mainly 1811-1815
According to abccoinsandtokens.com, Richard Wallis was a merchant with a business at 66 Great Charles Street, Birmingham. Thomas and Isaac Badger had many businesses. As well as nail manufacturers, they had blast furnaces and glass works, all in Dudley. These are four different examples of the 1811 token. The two at left were on sale at abccoinsandtokens.com in late May 2013, both of them in used but good condition. The two at right were sold through Ebay in 2007 and 2008, both well-worn, and the degradation is apparent.
The robed female figure is holding the scales of justice. We think that the bale and the cask are simply generalised symbols of trade and manufacture. One of the interesting points about these four examples is the colour range between them, and there isn't any immediately obvious reason for it. You might think that the darkest got that way by a lot of handling, but its condition says the opposite - that's not the reason. Maybe it was left out in the sun too long - unlikely: the other side is the same. The one possibility that does occur to me (and I'm an amateur in this field) is that the tokens lay around in the works at times, and that this could be atmospheric chemical damage. And if that really is the reason, be glad you never had to work there!
R. Newnham, writing in The Blackcountryman, vol.1, January 1968, says "The trade tokens of the early nineteenth century had a short life, lasting from 1811 to 1815. The war with France had driven up the price of copper, but by 1811 it had fallen enough to encourage private businessmen to strike and distribute tokens side by side with the regal issues". He goes on to write that "Perhaps because of their short life the local tokens of this date were not so widespread as those of the late eighteenth century... but it was in the West Midlands that most of these tokens appeared; some were genuine trade tokens, others were put into circulation in the hope that they would be offered and accepted by all tradespeople. Unlike their predecessors, the nineteenth century issues had folkloristic charm and individuality. No more political tokens appeared and there were fewer pieces showing contemporary or bygone heroes or heroines... Instead we are presented with the stark realism of the Industrial Revolution..." (he might also have added the confidence) in the form of manufacturing and workshop scenes, often accurately illustrated.
Below, two examples of the one penny token issued by or on behalf of James Wilkinson. Apparently he was originally listed as a horse gate, lock and vice manufacturer, and latterly as a vice and anvil maker, and that's the imagery we see here. The first token was drawn to my attention by David Clare, the source of the old Dudley postcards on previous pages.
The second one, offered on Ebay in 2008, is interesting on two counts. First, its very dark colour (as sometimes seen with other tokens) and second, the anvil is reversed even though the penny has the same year on it. We asked why this reversal might have come about, and Malcolm Johnson has suggested that the most likely reason for the reversed anvil is that those early dies, used to strike the tokens, frequently shattered from being repeatedly struck in the press. The engraver making a new one would have copied a struck token rather than the broken die - and forgotten to reverse what the token displayed. He also points out that the tops of the '1's in the date differ, so different date punches were used in fact it was possibly a different engraver.
Reversal was apparently a common mistake also made by forgers, who often put some or all of the lettering on backwards. And sign-writers have this problem of working backwards when they write the shop-owner's name on the inside of a window - for example the gold writing that was once common on the windows of solicitors and similar professions. As our own addition to Malcolm's list of potentials for error, in 1977 we visited a very delapidated manor house in Papworth St. Agnes near Huntingdon, where the family crest had long ago been cast in plaster and affixed to all the main ceilings. The crest had two large letters, W and H from memory, which were a fortunate pairing as they had been reversed on every crest without most people noticing the error. Although the craftsman is thought to have been illiterate that may be incorrect, and it may instead have been another simple reversal error.
In 2012, we were shown another article in the The Blackcountryman magazine, this time by Primrose Rostron (vol.7, no.2, Spring 1974) on the story of local tokens. This added the 1814 token below to our pictorial coverage and was a reminder that similar tokens were being produced in other quite local towns such as Bilston, Halesowen, Kingswinford, Oldswinford, Tipton, Lye, and Stowerbridge or Stourbridge (both spellings in use).
One example is the token above, produced by or on behalf of James Griffin & Sons who manufactured agricultural implements at their Withymoor business situated right next door to Dudley, in Netherton. The ruled-off segment of the token carrying the value and year is called an exergue. To pronounce it, just ignore the last 'ue'. This token is amazingly sharp for something that has just celebrated its 200th anniversary. It was on sale at abccoinsandtokens.com in late May 2013.
In a follow up to Ms Rostron's article referred to earlier on this page, P. Glews (The Blackcountryman vol.7, no.3, pp65-6) made two interesting points. First, that in each of the token mintings a particular denomination of of coin denominated: farthings in the 17th century, halfpennies in the 18th century, and pennies in the 19th century [this would surely follow from inflationary factors such as war and rising industrial demand for workers]. He also pointed out that around 1879 it was estimated that "three quarters of copper coin and two million pounds worth of silver coins in circulation were forged. "The forged coins were nicknamed "Brummagems" [see footnote 1 below]. At 2012 values, £2,000,000 becomes £160,000,000 which shows the seriousness of the forgery. Thus another Government had to ban tokens - first silver in 1810, and then copper in 1817. It's possible that the gray-looking James Wilkinson token with the reversed anvil was a Brummagem with little or no copper present, but given the behaviour of other token colourings that is not decisive evidence.
However, some relaxation eventually followed as more tokens appeared in later Victorian times and onward; from all sorts of place like pubs, co-ops and transport - and even a 3d token to use the Dudley Corporation Baths - as in the example below found by Malcolm. The lettering on the coin looks Victorian, but the value may be on the high side. From recollection (always to be treated with caution!), going to the baths in the 1950s/early 1960s cost sixpence for children.
Through the kindness of Paul Baker, we have the token example above. As can be seen, it has the legend obliterated with a star punch, and Malcolm wondered why. The name obliterated is probably W.B.Andrews since it matches the earlier example above, and they may have gone out of business. We've noted that in earlier days, any issuer of tokens had to accept them back. So my own guess is that someone appropriated some of the tokens for his own business use, but chose (or was legally forced) to cancel the earlier identity. If no new identity was applied, the token may have been used as a customer's proof of right to a minor service within the business such as a haircut, access to a paid-for toilet or machine, or to collect something low-value from another section.
Malcolm has come across several tokens, with five different values: 4 over 6d [sixpence], 4 over 1/- [one shilling], 1 over 1/6 [1 shilling and sixpence as shown earlier], 2 over 2/-, 3 over 2/6. They measure approx. 30mm and look like cupro-nickel, but are obviously (from the comment earlier) arguroid silver, and he wonders if anyone here knows anything about what they were used for.
One suggestion already is that they are barbers tokens, since many were made for that purpose. Some barbers tokens in Australian usage had the individual seat stamped on them where there were several barbers in a salon. In this usage, the barber gave the client a token (again known as a check) to take to the cashier, and this made it possible to tally up the work done by each barber at the end of the day. But the list of other known Dudley tokens above doesn't include barbers at all.
And for my own peace of mind, can someone also explain what the purpose of the "1 over", "2 over" lettering is for? Answers welcome to Dudley Mall at the email address at the bottom of this page. Thank you!
Footnote 1: Brummagem
In his Blackcountryman letter quoted from above, P. Glews suggested that "Brummagem" probably originated from the prologue to John Dryden's "Spanish Flyer", written in 1681, but the Oxford English Dictionary quotes a London complaint about Bromedgham (one of several spellings) sword blades in 1637, with an inferred comment about poor quality. There was also a case of "brummagem counterfeit groats" circa 1680, and variations on the brummagem name go back for centuries (one wonders if the Romans had trouble with them!), so Dryden probably got the name from the groats affair or a pre-existing concept of cheap and counterfeit, rather than the other way about.
Footnote 2: Forgery
When we wrote this paragraph in 2012, a one-pound coin forger had just been arrested, and the previous case was only about two years before it. The forgeries are so numerous that it's likely that some have passed through your possession. The big problem with forgeries is that they debase the currency, meaning that other countries won't trust it and become reluctant to give their own "good" currency in exchange. In America, new currency printing is protected by the Secret Service - the department that also protects the President. And then there are currency wars. It's worth recalling that in World War Two, the Germans made a currency attack on Britain by forging our high value bank notes (one of our banknotes from that period was described as "a thing of beauty and a counterfeiter's dream"!). We read somewhere that Britain retaliated by bombing Germany with counterfeit Reichmark notes. When anti-war leaflets were being dropped early in the war, some of the more militant airmen threw them out still bundled in the hope of doing damage. One wonders whether the same ever happened to the currency bundles and led to people below being struck by ill fortune...
Footnote 3: Arguroid Silver
When we first produced this page, we said "Arguroid silver" is so rare that even the full Oxford English Dictionary hasn't heard of it, so it could be a trade name or possibly a transitional name that soon fell out of favour. But an English friend of Malcolm's pointed out that since argentum is Latin for silver, and "oid" is a suffix which means 'combines' or 'resembles', the likely meaning is a metal that resembles and/or includes silver. Just to make the point more obvious, the token then adds the word silver. The use of the word "Registered" suggests that arguroid silver is a metal process with sufficient originality to be patented.
At the time there was nothing on the web (two of us checked independently), but it seems our two checks sparked Google's search-bots so now there are pages of the stuff, though they are largely similar to the example reproduced below. Malcolm had been in contact with another collector, Paul Baker, who drew attention to it. In the list were several pages of adverts from 1880s New Zealand newspapers, and Malcolm forwarded this one. As Malcolm points out, the original text was read by computer and has a few errors (like a German double-S), but apart from one obscure one, we've left them in for colour(!). Almost the last item listed gives us one of the uses for arguroid silver. Subsequent examples have made it clear that this was a major use for the metal.
JOHN DUTHIE & CO. (LIMITED), IRONMONGERS AND IRON MERCHANTS, Willis and Victoria Streets, Have pleasure in announcing the arrival of a large assortment of the following " Lines, viz. : NICKEL-PLATED TABLE, BRACKET, PENDANT, and LIBRARY LAMPS, in several patterns ANUCAPNIC aud DUPLEX TABLE LAMPS FENDERS, in bright and brass bead, brass rail CURBS, in brass rail, all brass, and marble FIREIRONS, FIRE BRASSES, RESTS, " and STOPS MARBLE and SLATE MANTELPIECES, REGISTER GRATES, the best selec- tion in the city COAL VASES. PARLOUR BELLOWS, FIRE-GUARDS HARRISi.N BROS. & HOWSON'S Cele- brated TABLE and POCKET CUT- LERY The universal satisfaction and inoreasing trade proves this Cutlery to be the beßt value yet introduced to this market. . JOHNSON'S and LOCKWOOD'S TABLE and POCKET CUTLERY, fully stocked SOLE IMPORTERS Of the Well-known "ARGUROID SILVER" SPOONS and FORKS, Which will wear white throughout. AGENTS FOR PERRY'S FIRE-RESISTING SAFES.
More recently, the National Library of New Zealand has included this trade advertisement from an old newspaper, the Evening Post for 24 August 1883, published in New Zealand's capital, Wellington. As the advert says, the metal looks like silver and is hard wearing - but cheap. Ideal, then, for a low value token. Generally similar adverts, all by John Duthie's business, appear between 1882 and 1899. At first it bothered us that only Duthie advertised Arguroid Silver, and only for those dates. These points are explainable by three things: (1) they were sole importers, (2) in a smallish capital city (in the 1880s), traders in the same line of business might differentiate their suppliers so that they could compete on design, manufacture and price. And (3) the range of dates might be determined by the National Library's scanning project - i.e. Duthie could have disappeared in 1899 or might have continued to prosper beyond the National Library's project limit.
Why doesn't the name occur in British adverts? Probably because the brand name wasn't mentioned or because no indexed scanning of such adverts has reached the web. There was also the ongoing concern about counterfeiting (in Europe as well as Britain) with a process that could look so very like real silver. It's possible that production was legally halted because of this concern, and perhaps W.B. Andrews went out of business as a result. But this is surmise and we would welcome more accurate information if anyone has it.
Since writing the above, two trade cards or adverts have been noted in 2013 at www.925-1000.com. These are for Charles Ellis & Co. of Norfolk Street, Sheffield in 1863 at no.39, and 1888 at no.57. The first describes the firm as "Makers of Electro-plated Spoons, Forks, etc., and British Plate, Made from the Pure Arguroid, and warranted to maintain its colour". The second says "Manufacturers of spoons, forks, soup and toddy ladles, gravy spoons, fish carvers and dessert cutlery of every description. The material used in this establishment is of the best possible description. Wears as white as silver." Other cards on the same web site refer to nickel plate and the finest improved nickel silver - the finest substitute for sterling silver yet invented. The implication is that arguroid may be either an older name for nickel, or was displaced by it.
Text: Harry Drummond and as noted
Image copyright: the people named
Remainder copyright © 2014 Dudley Mall.