Category: Research

Evesham tokens in the Pearkes collection – a forgotten hoard rediscovered?

In the second volume of his 1781 Collections for the history of Worcestershire Treadway Russell Nash included a plate of engravings depicting numismatic specimens with local links. Among them were 37 Worcestershire tokens, most originating in the private collection of ‘the Rev. Mr. Pearkes, of Worcester’. Nash’s Rev. Pearkes can be identified as John Pearkes FSA, a clergyman antiquary with strong links to Worcestershire and the surrounding counties; his ecclesiastical career included stints as curate of Kington in the 1760s and early 1770s, Prebendary of Worcester Cathedral from 1776 to 1781, and rector of Bredon and Bredon’s Norton from 1781 until his death on 27 April 1787.

Engravings of Worcestershire tokens in Nash’s Collections; most derive from Pearkes’ collection.

During his lifetime Pearkes amassed a vast collection of books, coins, tokens, and other historical artefacts, the bulk of which were sold at two separate auctions held by John Gerard of Soho on 21-22 February and 7-8 April 1788. The corresponding sales catalogues confirm Pearke’s wide-ranging numismatic interests, which included ancient coins, contemporary medals, and plenty inbetween; at the core of his collection, however, was a ‘very curious and choice Collection of Town-Pieces and Tradesmen Tokens’, comprising more than 1,400 English, Irish, and Welsh tokens of the seventeenth century. Roughly three-quarters of these were private tokens, details of which are frustratingly absent, but the catalogue does provide information on just under 300 ‘Town-Pieces’ – halfpennies and farthings struck by civic bodies – present in his collection.

An Evesham halfpenny (Cotton 25a), almost certainly from the Pearkes collection. Engraving from Nash 1781, 91ff.

The ‘Town-Pieces’ in Pearkes’ collection have a broad national coverage, and there are only limited indications of a Worcestershire bias in the representation of issue-locations: in many respects the county’s element is pretty modest, comprising seven Evesham halfpence (Cotton 25a), two Stourbridge halfpence (Cotton 64), and a single Worcester farthing (Cotton 79). Of these specimens, however, the Evesham parcel stands out. Not only are its tokens unduly well-represented in Pearkes’ collection at the county level, they are among the most numerous in the collection as a whole – just behind Bristol, which is represented by 12 specimens, and on level pegging with Gloucester’s seven specimens. This sense of disproportionality is heightened when we consider the scale on which these tokens were produced; according to the late Robert Thompson, the number of dies used to produce Evesham’s civic tokens were considerably outranked by Gloucester and Bristol at a ratio of nearly 1:2:8.

Why, then, should Rev. Pearkes have possessed such an unusually large number of Evesham civic tokens? One possibility is that the group derives from an otherwise unrecorded hoard uncovered in the Evesham area during the eighteenth century. Circumstantial evidence suggests that this idea is not entirely far-fetched. Brick buildings in Evesham town centre testify to a substantial remodelling of the town in the eighteenth century, and it could be that a hoard of civic tokens emerged in the course of dismantling an earlier post-medieval building in this period. As a prominent local collector, Pearkes would have been attuned to any such discoveries; he certainly possessed the financial means to acquire a hoard of tokens in whole or in part. Pure speculation, of course – further archival research may furnish additional evidence supporting or challenging the theory.

Murray Andrews

New addition – biography of Richard Woof

Monument to Richard Woof in Worcester Cathedral

New research update – I’ve penned a biography of Richard Woof, which can now be found through the ‘Research’ section in the header or this link. Woof is an important but sadly neglected figure in Worcestershire numismatics, and I had real fun researching his career; a particular highlight was discovering a painting of the man during a trip to the Worcester Guildhall. One hell of a set of mutton chops. Anyway, hope it’s of interest!

Murray Andrews

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

New addition – biography of William Alfred Cotton

Logo of William A. Cotton, auctioneer

Just a quick post to notify readers of a new addition to the website – I’ve written a potted biography of the doyen of Worcestershire numismatics, William Alfred Cotton, which is accessible via the ‘Research’ section in the header. Alternatively, follow the link here. More to follow!

Murray Andrews