Posts in Category: Trade

August - A token effort 

Saturday, August 01, 2015 1:31:00 PM Categories: Copper Metal Post-medieval Trade

At various times throughout our history there have been severe shortages of coinage.  Based on face value the cost of manufacturing coins is disproportionately greater for lower denominations, and consequently shortages would often involve small change. 

The production of coinage was the prerogative of the King or Queen with unlicensed contraventions punishable by death.  After the English civil war in the middle of the 17th century England was no longer a monarchy and became a Commonwealth under a Lord Protector. The upheaval of the civil war had caused a shortage of coinage and traders found it increasingly difficult to transact their business.  Accordingly, since there was no longer a monarch to enforce the ultimate penalty, traders, merchants, innkeepers and later local Corporations of the period, took it upon themselves to issue their own.

Photograph of 17th century copper alloy farthing token

These tokens provide a fascinating insight into the history of the period.  Most have some kind of pictorial device on them representing the name of an Inn; others have the arms of their trading guilds such as Grocers, Drapers, Bakers, Tallowchandlers, Mercers and so forth. Occasionally they feature a pictorial play on words. So for example a token of Thomas Curtis shows two people curtseying.  A very frequent device is to have the initial letter of the issuers surname as the apex of a triangle with the Christian name initials of the issuer and their spouse forming the base.


This latter device, along with a sugar loaf, is used on our Find of the Month for July, which is a 17th century copper alloy farthing traders token of John Tucke of Burnham Market. On the obverse face is the legend IOHN TVCKE and the date I666, with a central sugar loaf motif which is usually symbolic of the Grocers’ trade. The reverse side has the legend IN BVRNHAM MARKET, with the triangular letter convention I(J)MT mentioned above, in the centre. The full record for this token can be seen on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website (https://finds.org.uk/database/search) – search using reference number NMS-E0B82D.
This particular token has been very kindly donated to the Norwich Castle Museum by the finder. The Norfolk 17th century token collection of the Castle Museum will be the subject of an exhibition in February 2016 where you will be able to see the full extent of these fascinating snapshots of history.
 

July - Weighed in the balance 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015 9:00:00 AM Categories: Medieval Metal Trade

With the odd exception, we take for granted in today’s world that the coinage we use to pay for goods is genuine and up to a standard. In the distant past this was not so. Silver and gold coinage was essentially bullion – a silver penny was made of a pennyworth of silver. Unfortunately, the criminal fraternity would remove thin slivers of metal from the coin edges in a process called clipping. 

Coin design and some very gruesome penalties tried to prevent this activity, but it was rife for many centuries from Roman times onwards. It was only when coins were manufactured by milling rather than striking in the latter part of the 17th century that the process started to decline. Accordingly, since the weight of a coin was critical to its acceptance in the next transaction, traders and the like had a need to weigh coinage and other valuable goods against a known standard. 

This month’s find then is a medieval folding balance used for just such a purpose. It was found by a metal detectorist in a ploughed field. (See find reference NMS-EE36EB).

Unfortunately, as is the case for many artefacts found on cultivated land it is rather damaged, but one of the two folding arms is almost fully intact, as is the central pointer. The two arms when folded out would have had balance pans attached to loops at their ends to contain the standard and the coin or goods being checked.

The balance pointer would indicate the degree of equilibrium. The lower image shows a more complete example that gives a better idea as to how it was configured. The balance dates from circa 1300-1400 and you can just imagine some of the animated and colourful discussions that may have taken place in its near vicinity over its long history!

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