Month: September 2017

BANS Autumn Weekend, Shrewsbury, 8-10 September 2017

On Friday 8 September I headed up to Shrewsbury to attend the Autumn Weekend of the British Association of Numismatic Societies (BANS). I’d been invited to give a lecture there by Dr Kevin Clancy, Director of the Royal Mint Museum, and on taking up his offer I opted to put together something on a local theme. Hyper-local, in fact – my presentation for the weekend was titled ‘Tokens, trade, and the seventeenth century small town: the case of Tenbury’.

The event was held at the Lion Hotel, a Grade I listed late fifteenth century coaching inn located in the heart of the town on Wyle Cop. The surroundings were well-suited for a weekend of this sort, where all speakers offered stimulating talks on coinages from across the world and of all dates – from my own perspective, particularly interesting presentations included those of Dr Martin Allen (Fitzwilliam Museum) and David Holt on the Shrewsbury mint during the middle ages and the English Civil War, and Dr Joe Bispham on the coinage of King Stephen. My own presentation took place on the Saturday morning, sandwiched between presentations on 3 Kreuzers and Islamic coins – quite a mix!

In the presentation I discussed the role of tokens in the economies of early modern small towns, using Tenbury as a case study. As followers of the Worcestershire Token Project are probably aware, there is a significant problem in token studies insofar as our understanding of the production and use of token coinages during the seventeenth century derives principally from historical evidence relating to London and the large provincial towns, yet the vast majority of the tokens we know about were issued for individuals based in small towns and large villages. We cannot simply assume that tokens were produced for the same reasons or functioned in exactly the same way in Bristol, London, or Norwich, for example, as they did in Blockley, Clifton upon Teme, or Cofton Hackett.

Taking Tenbury as a case in point, archaeological and historical sources reveal the complex tapestry of commercial activity, monetary exchange and social transactions prevalent in early modern small towns. During the seventeenth century the town hosted a weekly market and a number of seasonal fairs, where locals and outsiders traversing the twin routes from London and Montgomery to Ludlow mingled in the course of trade; it also had its share of more permanent businesses, with indentures, wills and quarter sessions recording tanners, butchers, blacksmiths, dyers, glovers, mercers, pedlars, apothecaries, victuallers and innkeepers active in the town at this period. While there was certainly a constant flow of minor transactions taking place in the town – this is no self-sufficient ‘natural economy’ – it’s likely that the greater share of commerce pursued in seventeenth century Tenbury was mid- to large-scale, involving bulk purchases and sales of livestock and agricultural produce, major sales of landed property, seasonal rent payments and the settlement of debts. In these cases the evidence suggests that payment took place using non-token media: payments in cash and in kind (e.g. cattle) appear frequently in the historical sources for this period. And even instances of petty commerce – for instance, paying for a bed at a local inn, or purchasing small amounts of goods and produce at shops on the main streets – could be cashless, conducted in credit rather than coin. In other words, the demand for ‘small change ‘ in a small town like Tenbury was probably quite a lot smaller in both absolute and relative terms than it was in a large town like Bristol or London.

All this prompts a few questions. If demand for ‘small change’ need not have been large, and might have been primarily met by credit, why then did three private issuers from the town – John Counley, Edmund Lane, and Anthony Search – bother issuing tokens at all? And, moreover, why did they do so on such a small scale – to date, each of the seven types I have seen from Tenbury issuers are represented by a single pair of dies, none of which seem to have been used to exhaustion. An additional peculiarity in Tenbury’s case is that the occupations of its token issuers do not neatly tally with those trades that we might expect to have the greatest need for ‘small change’ – for example, numerous licensed and unlicensed inns are recorded in the town during the seventeenth century, yet none seem to have issued tokens of their own.

It’s possible, then, that demand for ‘small change’ may only be part of the story to tokens of this period – additional factors may also have driven the decisions of some individuals in small towns like Tenbury to commission their production. Anthony Search’s tokens of 1670, for example, note that ‘plaine dealing is best’; by stamping this slogan beside his name, perhaps this issuer was at least as concerned with promoting his credentials as a fair – and probably Quaker – businessman as he was with alleviating a demand for ‘small change’. The role of tokens as communication media are also apparent in the tokens of Edmund Lane, which usually depict a personal armorial motif – the sole examples of their kind in the entire Worcestershire series. Edmund’s name pops up from time to time in local documents of the period, where he appears as both a local notable – he served as churchwarden for the church of St Mary’s, Tenbury, in 1689, and he witnessed numerous indentures from the town and surrounding villages in the late seventeenth century – and a rentier offering cash loans across the Teme Valley. The choice to prominently display the family arms – which in any case had been created only a century earlier for his ancestor, an upwardly-mobile Warwickshire yeoman farmer named Nicholas Lane – may have functioned as part of a strategy of elite self-representation; through striking tokens of this kind he could propagate an image of himself as an established country gentleman, and thereby acquire prestige and new business. Maybe, then, private individuals in small towns did not only commission tokens to lubricate the wheels of petty commerce in their local areas; maybe they also had other goals in mind, like a desire to communicate information about themselves and their businesses to the widest possible audience.

All these ideas are very formative, and in any case the subsequent discussions provided much food for thought. I’m grateful to Kevin Clancy for inviting me to the weekend, and to all other speakers and attendees for providing such an excellent opportunity to air ideas – I look forwards to attending in the future!

Murray Andrews

Research visit – Tenbury Museum

In a previous post I reported on a research visit to the Corinium Museum, Cirencester, which was generously facilitated by a small grant from the UK Numismatic Trust. Funding from the UKNT has also allowed me to pursue other research visits to regional archives and museums, and on this basis I visited Tenbury Museum in July 2017 to examine their token collection.

Situated in the northwest of the county on the Shropshire border, Tenbury is probably the smallest of Worcestershire’s ‘small towns’, with just under 3000 inhabitants at the time of the 2001 census – roughly three times the population of the seventeenth century parish, if the evidence of the hearth tax returns of 1664/5 and 1676 ecclesiastical census can be trusted. It lies in the heart of the picturesque Teme Valley, whose undulating topography is a mosaic of rich red cultivated soils, hilly pasture flocked by cattle and sheep, and stretches of ancient woodland interspersed with scattered farmsteads and small villages. Much of this setting was familiar to early modern visitors; according to the late sixteenth century antiquary William Camden, the region possessed ‘rich meadows, and the soil on both sides [of the Teme] produceth excellent Syder, and Hops in great abundance’, while two centuries later the topographer James Baker would note Tenbury’s ‘rich and spacious’ countryside, and how ‘in summer…none exhibits on its bounds larger or more varied successions of productive plantations of grain, cyder-fruit and hops’.  A walk through the town takes barely any time, and gives some stunning glimpses of its medieval and early modern inheritance.

The Kings Head Pub, Cross Street – one of several surviving early modern buildings in Tenbury

Since 1977 Tenbury has had its own local museum, run by an active and enthusiastic team of volunteers from the Tenbury Wells Museum and History Group. After a speculative enquiry in the spring I quickly discovered that the museum held a small collection of seventeenth century tokens, and after some email correspondence with the group secretary, Mike Thompson, a research visit was arranged for the summer.

Tenbury Museum in Goff’s Free School

On arrival in Tenbury I met up with Mike, who kindly showed me around the stunning Tenbury Pump Rooms, a Grade II* listed mid-nineteenth century bath house built to promote the town as a Victorian working class spa destination. The Museum Group organises tours of the Pump Rooms on a monthly basis, and I’d strongly recommend a visit! Following this trip we headed towards the museum, which presently occupies a Free School built in 1819 on the bequest of the Hereford-born coal merchant Edward Goff. The building is attractive, but very small – although this is certainly part of its charm.

The numismatic collection at Tenbury Museum is similarly modest, as is its Worcestershire token element – just three specimens. Size isn’t everything, however,  and from the perspective of the Project these objects represent a very welcome body of evidence indeed. One specimen is a civic halfpenny of the Wardens of Bewdley, issued in 1668 (Cotton 3); its reverse motif, an anchor flanked by a sword and a rose, is the same design as that used on the town’s common seal. The remaining two specimens are both private issues: one a 1667 halfpenny of Thomas Balamey of Kidderminster (Cotton 40), and the other a 1662 halfpenny of William Swift of Worcester (Cotton 107). Balamey’s profession is indicated by the presence of the Weavers arms on the obverse of his token, and extracts from his 1691 probate inventory published by Cotton illuminate the nature of his business: his ‘stock in trade’ included eight looms, large quantities of wool and linen yarn, and other tools of the trade. It also informs us of the standards of living a successful weaver might maintain at this date, which included a well-furnished house and personal estate worth £206 6s. 9d.

Swift’s token, by contrast, chose to depict the three pears of Worcester, leaving few numismatic clues as to his profession. The Swifts were a prominent family in seventeenth century Worcester, with one member,  Samuel Swift, being elected to the mayoralty in 1684; the named William Swift can probably be identified with the 57 year old ‘merchant and sugar baker, grocer and draper’ recorded in the county visitation of 1682-3 , who had previously served as the county’s high sheriff in 1675, and whose burial is recorded in the parish registers of Worcester St Swithun under 20 February 1688.

From a numismatic perspective the specimens in Tenbury Museum have some interesting features. The halfpenny of William Swift, for example, was struck using a pair of dies observed on another specimen that I have recorded; however, the Tenbury specimen lacks a die crack present on that specimen, so must have been produced before it. This sort of information is really useful for building up a high-resolution chronology of token production, so was a real treat to discover! Both other specimens are also struck from dies recorded in other museum collections – in these cases, the phenomenal nineteenth century collection formed by William Alfred Cotton held at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.

I’m really grateful to Mike Thompson and the team at Tenbury Museum for facilitating this research, and to the UK Numismatic Trust for providing the funding that made it happen.

Murray Andrews