Conder Tokens



condortokenleftEARLY TOKEN HISTORYcondortokenright

Written by William McKivor
all images owned by







Over the centuries, money came to be accepted in disk form that contained the actual — or close to the actual — value of the metal from which it was made. In England in the eighth century, the silver penny formed the basis of coinage. As silver and gold were not worth as much as they are today, a silver penny was the smallest coin — if one wanted a smaller denomination, the penny was cut into halves (half-pennies) or fourths (a fourth-thing, or "farthing"). As the price of silver rose due to finding other uses for it, the coins became smaller and smaller, making it very hard to make coin useful to the public.

By 1601, the silver penny weighed .052 grams, or 8 grains. It is not hard to see that a farthing, with a weight of only 2 grains would be nearly useless — easier to lose than to use!!

Compounding this problem, the Kings and Queens of England were reluctant to agree to the manufacture of any coin in what they considered "base metal." Copper, which had little value, was looked upon as a base metal — and rejected as coinage material. Copper coinage was simply "beneath the dignity of Monarchs" and was not to be used. Thus, small change was continually is short supply. This fact led the populace to produce token money — sometimes with the blessing of the Monarch, most times without.


In the time of Queen Elizabeth I, some tokens were made —most of them being of tin, a mixture of copper and tin, or a lead based alloy. They were made in fairly large numbers, and their manufacture and use continued until the middle of the 17th century. They were produced by merchants and used generally for their businesses, and by town officials seeing a public need. Bartering for goods and services was still commonplace throughout this time, but the need for low-value coinage grew steadily. Though beneath Kingly dignity to supply copper coin from the Royal Mint, "token farthings" were approved by King James I (1603-1625). His desire was to curtail the use of lead token coinage that was in current use. His solution, however was to issue a royal patent to Lord Harrington, and let him make copper farthings — and keep the money to be made from their issue. This Royal Patent was extended to others until 1644.

Harrington and those who came after responded by minting farthings that were FAR from the intrinsic value of copper — and were thus hated by the population. In fact, at a time when a farthing worth of copper was around 90 grains, Harrington made his at 7 ½ grains, and sometimes as tiny as 3 grains!!

These "Royal Patent" farthings did not stop the manufacture and use of privately issued leaden tokens.

Civil war broke out in 1642. This caused the populace to hoard silver coin, causing a severe shortage of that medium of exchange. The war lasted until 1649 — when Charles I was beheaded. England did not seat another King at that time — with Cromwell, who had defeated Charles I, declaring that he did not want to be King — and that England should be a Commonwealth. Cromwell was installed as "Lord Protector" of the Commonwealth. For centuries, the King had held the Royal Prerogative — only he could produce coinage. Anyone who attempted to mint money would be summarily executed. With no monarch on the throne, there was now no Royal Prerogative — and — the people hoped — no punishment!!! The manufacture and use of copper tokens in Britain thus began on a large scale.

The most important point to remember is that the tokens were NEEDED in commerce in every instance. If the government had supplied what was needed —there would have been no reason for the issues.


This series of tokens, covered in books by Boyne, Williamson, and Dickinson — (see bibliography) — were first issued in London in 1648. By the time they were suppressed by the King of England in 1772-1774, their use had spread to all of England, and most of Ireland and Wales. None were produced or used in Scotland — they were not needed there, as a good supply of small coinage had been issued by the government — which, at that time, was a separate entity from that of England. It can be seen, then, that if the English government had supplied enough coin — tokens would not have been needed — and would not have been issued.

Most of the tokens were struck issues, using copper or brass — though they are known in a few other metals. All of the earliest pieces were farthings — varying in diameter from 14 to 22 mm in general. The pieces struck for municipalities were usually in the 20-22 mm range, those issued by merchants of the smaller sizes. The farthing issues, other than the municipal issues, seldom mentioned their value on the token. The first halfpenny seen is dated 1656. Still uncommon then, the halfpenny became the dominant issue after 1664. A few penny tokens were also issued, most in use in Wales and the north of England.

When looking at Ireland, however, we find that the penny was the most common — although they were mostly the size of the English farthing pieces!!

The vast majority of the tokens are round — or as round as they could make them. Around 1668, a few other shapes were tried. These include heart-shaped tokens, diamond shapes, square pieces, and octagonal tokens. Most of these are quite rare, in demand, and command very high prices today.

Most of the tokens contain a pictorial device. Many have the arms of trading guilds — the Grocer's arms, Bricklayer's arms, and so forth. Used to show what trade the issuer was in, it was a quick guide for the new owner of the piece. A fascinating part of these tokens is the variety of spelling seen. Oftentimes, the spelling seen on the tokens is done phonetically — the actual spelling ignored. There are towns with numerous issuers where the town is spelled in a different way each time — leaving us to figure out their actual location. It must be noted, however, that no particular standard was in effect — and really none of the spellings can be considered incorrect. Rhymes — humor — and play on words — are often seen as well. The issuer's name is usually included on the token — sometimes in a straightforward manner, other times by use of pictures. Thus, a token issued by one "Harbottle" has a pictorial of a hare and a bottle.

Why were they issued? And what possessed the population to think that they could issue them? After all, for centuries it had been the King's Prerogative to issue money of any kind. If one were to take it upon themselves to issue "money"— in any form — they would have been subject to the King's law — which was usually understood to be death. This was not a law that many wished to test.

For the answer, we need to look at what was happening at the time. King Charles I was beheaded in 1649. For the first time in centuries, the victor — Cromwell — did not move to install another king. He declared a Commonwealth, with no king at its head. Cromwell was named "Lord Protector" of the Commonwealth — a post he held until his death in 1658. His son took the post for another two years, at which time the Monarchy was restored. With no king on the throne — there WAS no King's Prerogative when it came to coining money. One could not be put to death for flouting a law that was no longer valid. On top of this, the civil war that had raged since 1642 had left the country very short of any kind of coin. The merchants were hard pressed to carry on their businesses. With the law out of the way — the people took over. The token coinage was born.

How many tokens were made? No one knows for sure — Boyne (1858) estimated that there were around 20,000 different issuers. Williamson (1891) accepted that figure, and listed 12,700 examples that had been found. Dickinson, in 1986, found no reason not to agree with the original estimate of issuers — 20,000 — but by this time 14,000 different issues had been found. When they were suppressed in 1672 — with a later warning to the stragglers in 1674 — most of the tokens were destroyed or melted. Thus, many of the 14,000 issues known have but a few to look at — many are but one of a kind. The most plentiful of the tokens are the municipal issues — which were far greater in number than the private, merchant issued tokens. Many of the merchants only issued enough to do business within their own neighborhood — often the tokens issued by a small town merchant were only used within an area of a few blocks of his store. Thus, such a merchant would only issue a small number — and with most destroyed in 1672-4, what is left is often only one or two. As can be seen from the figures above, there are about 6,000 issuers whose tokens have not been found at all.

With the issue of Royal Farthings and Halfpennies in 1672, there was no longer any need for the "People's Tokens" — but those that remain are interesting, indeed. The above is but a thumbnail sketch of the history of the tokens.



condortokenleftEARLY TOKEN HISTORYcondortokenright

Written by William McKivor
all images owned by







Paul and Bente Withers, in their wonderful new reference volume on the 19th Century penny and halfpenny tokens entitled British Copper Tokens,  1811-1820 have a superb eight page introduction to the tokens and the era in which they were produced. The introduction covers the history in great detail — really wonderful detail. As this introduction to the series is meant to discuss the tokens themselves, it will be much shorter. However — if you are interested in this wonderful series — “Withers” is a must!! 

The tokens issued during the 1811-1820 period were really quite different from the pieces that had proceeded them in the latter days of the 18th Century. A good number of events occurred that led to the manufacture of the pieces — with the usual reason leading the way. There was a shortage — once again — of small change.

Here, we must go back in time slightly — to 1797. George III effectively halted the “Conder” token issue by producing penny and halfpenny coins in that year. They were followed by other issues of copper coin in 1799, 1806, and 1807. It would seem that there would have been plenty of small change. Regretfully for the public, it was not to be. As we have discussed in other sections, the basis of acceptable money in the era was to have the coin be of correct weight. In other words, the value of the metal should be close to the value of the coin. If the coin is light weight, it does not contain enough metal — be it silver, gold — or copper, in this instance.

After 1797, the price of copper increased, leading to the coinage of 1799 having less copper in it than the issue of 1797 — though the VALUE was the same. The issues of 1806 and 1807 were similarly reduced in weight, because of a further rise in the price of copper. This led — as you might expect — to the melting of the earlier issues — which were now worth quite a bit more than face value! This increase in the value of copper was caused by the need of the metal for munitions — Britain was in the middle of a war.

The long and costly war with Napoleon of France — and the war against the USA in 1812 — badly depleted the country’s resources. The government was quite occupied with pressing matters, both at home, with a very restless population, and abroad. Producing useful coin of the realm was important — but only to the people. For the ministers in charge of such things, it was not important enough. Nothing was done to relieve the problem.

Britain was also in the middle of the industrial revolution — which, by applying steam power to more and more industries, was escalating at a great rate. It was like a monster that feeds on itself — the more efficient a factory becomes, the more it produces — making more work in other fields. Steam power also meant that mills did not have to be located by a stream because of the need for a waterwheel — they could be located where the workers were, in the cities and towns.

Thus, with the expanding economy, the need was there for coin in ever increasing amounts. The earlier coin had, as we have seen, largely been melted for its value as a metal. It was at this juncture that the price of copper began to drop. Copper mines suddenly had an abundance of copper — and the country needed small change. It was a natural that they would decide to help themselves, as well as help the country — and produce small change. The government — once again asked to produce copper coin for the use of the public — did nothing. 

The copper tokens produced beginning in 1811 were mostly penny issues. Very small issues of Threepence, Twopence, Halfpennies and Farthings were made, but the prices dictated that the Penny was the most needed coin. Though they were made until 1820, the vast majority of the pieces were produced in 1811 and 1812. Strangely, even a copper Sixpence was attempted. It most likely failed to catch on when the weight of them was re-considered. All Sixpences are very rare today. 

Many of these penny tokens were issued by mining interests. Other tokens were issued by merchants, townships, and poorhouses. They were made to the correct weight in most cases, but were quite utilitarian in design and lack any real artistry. Many of the tokens bear legends only, and the shallow designs did not excite collectors at the time. The tokens were made to use — and use them the people did.

This was not to last, however. They were greeted enthusiastically at first — but some of the genuine issuers went bankrupt, leaving the public with tokens that could not be redeemed for real coin. As well, spurious issues once again were made, with the same result — they were not redeemable. The tokens, in general, were being used, and used correctly — they did fill a genuine need. The bad apples in the barrel, however, caused such a cry that the government eventually called a halt to them as well, with the proviso that one poorhouse issue could be in circulation until as late as 1823 without penalty, as recalling them would work a hardship on the poor. The vast majority of the tokens were removed from circulation by decree in 1817.

The token coinage of the 1811-1820 period did not find collector’s standing in line for them. The economy and life of the people was in a constant state of flux — collecting them was not at the top of anyone’s list. As well, the utilitarian designs did not have anyone excited. Few were saved in nice condition — except, most likely, by accident. Though made in fairly large quantities, the tokens were heavily used by a grateful public. This fact leaves us today with very few really nice examples of ANY of the tokens. A collector willing to collect them in Very Fine will do well — anything in Extra Fine or better can be quite difficult.

It is a rewarding series, however. These tokens were issued by industrialists — REAL industrialists, in the midst of the suddenly exploding industrial revolution. Britain was in the forefront of that revolution — leading the way — the steam engines are running, the workers are working 12 hour days, and the tokens tell of the economic realities of the time. All tokens, regardless of when issued, do that — they take the measure of what was going on at the time, and lets us hold it in our hands and contemplate what was — what was to come — and what is.

condortokenleftEARLY TOKEN HISTORYcondortokenright

Written by William McKivor
all images owned by


 British Copper Tokens 1811-1820






The first thing to cover in this section is the actual name of this token series. In Britain, they are known as 18th Century Provincial tokens. Collectors in the United States have adopted the name of one of the first catalogers of the series, one James Conder of Ipswich. James Conder put out his catalog in the late 18th century. His arrangement became the standard reference. James Atkins followed with an updated
reference in 1892. Between 1910-1917 Richard Dalton and S. H. Hamer published — in sections — what has proven to be a masterwork. It has been updated through the years, with the latest printing being one done in 2004. The relatively small number of revisions, corrections, and additions made to “D&H” in comparison to the size of the work has been small, indeed. It is still the standard reference for the series.

In previous history sections the lack of small change, counterfeiting problems, and the reluctance of the British government to provide a good small coin for the masses to use has been discussed. A few other events made this lack of good small change far more important than it had ever been. Foremost of these events was the industrial revolution and its ramifications.

As society became industrialized — with the ability to manufacture machinery that made more manufacturing possible in other fields — the laborer saw an opportunity to leave the farm, and make a living wage for his family. There was thus a steady exodus from the provinces to mining or large manufacturing centers, where the need to pay wages was hampered by a lack of small coin. Some of the mines were located in out of the way areas, and there was literally no change available. In the cities, with more and more workers getting wages, more shops of all sorts were opened, bringing with them more jobs that needed wages to be paid. All of this began to accelerate at a rapid rate by the mid 1780’s.

George III had discontinued the making of copper coins in 1775. He found that they did not circulate. There were two main reasons. The huge number of counterfeit coins in circulation would be spent first — if the holder could get anyone to accept them. The nice, new, shiny penny would be saved — part of “Gresham’s Law”— that states that “Bad money drives the good money out.” The second reason they did not circulate was the counterfeiter — who would gather up the new issues, melt them down, and make 2 or 3 lightweight coppers out of one good one — thus doubling or tripling their money. Obviously, this latter only added to the counterfeits in circulation.

A third reason existed. The large cities often had enough — or even an abundance — of coin. That most of it was “bad” coin was a fact, but at least it existed. The small towns out in the “provinces” were often completely without coin. Money has a habit of flowing to the major trade centers, never to return.

In 1787, the Parys Mining Company, who mined copper ore — made a decision. They had the copper, and they had access to coining presses. Located in Anglesey, Wales, they were out of the mainstream. Little coin of any kind found its way there. They decided to make their own. Beginning in 1787, they produced Penny and Halfpenny tokens, of the correct weight, nice design, and a edge legend that stated they were payable in Regal funds by them. They were avidly accepted by the workers, and loved by the merchants. The mines themselves were important — there was now a supply of copper in Britain that had not existed before. Planchets for copper coins could now be made locally, at reasonable cost.

Manufacturers and artists climbed on the bandwagon — producing designs that were not possible until improvements in coining manufacture due to the industrial revolution made it so. The need for correct weight coin existed — and there were lots of people willing to fill the need.

The idea caught on, and by 1795 thousands of issues of tokens could be found. Due to the improvement in the way tokens could be manufactured, the commercial tokens were not only of the correct weight, but could be made with wonderful designs. About 95% of the tokens produced were halfpennies. Penny tokens were generally produced in small number, with a couple of notable exceptions.

These tokens not only caught on with the buying public and merchants, but also created a groundswell of collectors determined to get one of each.

The collecting craze expanded to the point of many issues being made for collectors only — at a premium cost. It also led some manufacturers to the manufacture of “mules”— pieces made by using the obverse of one token, and the reverse of another — to make additional collector pieces. These were considered to be “spurious” issues — designed to cheat the public and fool collectors.

As well, the tokens usually came with a lettered edge. On a correct piece, the edge gives information on the issuer, and where he could be found to refund the token into Regal coin. Varieties were made using incorrect edge markings, giving collectors one more thing to find — and the user often nowhere to go to redeem the pieces.

Others saw the advantage of making tokens, as well. Tokens were produced to advertise, espouse political views and social problems.

By 1795, the supply of these tokens — real ones, spurious pieces, and medalets — exceeded demand. The quality had deteriorated to the point where something had to be done. The government finally stepped in, and called a halt to the tokens, issuing copper Two penny and One penny coins in 1797.

For a ten year period extending from 1787-1797 almost the only “coins” in circulation in Britain were the Provincial, or “Conder” tokens. As they were designed and manufactured by the public, they were not limited by any rules or regulations. Taken as a group, the tokens form a history of a people in a way never seen before — or since!! Through them, we can look in on life in late 18th century Britain.
We can see how they lived and thought through their commerce, politics, advertising, and even view their architecture. Avidly collected at the time of their issue, many of these tokens survive in wonderful condition, pieces of history that can be held in the hand. Collectors today find them perhaps even more fascinating than they did years ago. The study of these tokens has proven to be rewarding to many, and the stories behind the tokens and the era are exciting to discover.

A great deal has been written about the Provincial, or “Conder” tokens. The primary reference is Dalton & Hamer’s “The Provincial Token Coinage of the 18th Century,” with descriptions and plates of thousands of tokens. As well, R. C. Bell has written five books covering different types of the tokens — Commercial Tokens, Specious Tokens, Private Tokens, Tradesman’s Tokens, Political Tokens, Social issues, Building Medalets, and the National, or Royalty issues of the period. In the bibliography you will find a large number of references regarding this wonderful series.

Additional examples byWilliam McKivor