Trading tokens minted in year of 1666 Great Fire to fetch £20,000

Great Fire Sale of London: Collection of trading tokens – including ones minted in year of famous 1666 blaze – are set to fetch £20,000 at auction

  • Roger Green, who is from Kent, spent 35 years collecting the tokens
  • Were issued by traders instead of money due to a lack of available small change
  • Many of the money tokens bear the names of the traders who once issued them 

A collection of battered 17th century trading tokens, including ones minted in the year of the Great Fire of London in 1666, could fetch £20,000 at auction.  

Roger Green, who is from Kent, spent 35 years collecting the tokens on the muddy banks of the River Thames.

They were issued by traders instead of money due to a lack of available small change at the time.

Many of the money tokens bear the names of the traders who once issued them, including ‘Walter’ and ‘William’.  

The entire collection is expected to fetch between £15,000 and £20,000 when it is sold at Hansons Auctioneers, in Derbyshire, later this month.

A quarter of the 360 tokens in the collection display the year of the London fire, which six people and left around 100,000 people homeless.

Alan Smith, head of Hansons’ Historica department, speculated that it was likely many of the tokens ‘flew out of pockets and bags’ amid people’s panicked attempt to escape the flames.  

A collection of battered 17th Century trading tokens, including ones minted in the year of the Great Fire of London in 1666, could fetch £20,000 at auction. Pictured: This coin was issued by trader Marie Allen, from Wye in Kent

Many of the money tokens were found buried in the muddy banks of the River Thames after lying undiscovered for more than 300 years. Pictured: The other side of the token issued by Marie Allen

Mr Green said one of his most prized tokens is one from Erith, south-east London, which is only a mile from where he used to live. The coin is dated 1671

Mr Green said: ‘I started collecting coins but gradually moved to tokens. I find them more interesting as they’re personal to the people who issued and used them.

‘I joined the Society of Thames Mudlarks and Antiquarians in 1985.

‘River digging opened a whole new area and over the years I managed to find quite a few tokens, mostly from London and Southwark but also from other areas of the country.

‘One of my most prized tokens is from Erith, an area of south-east London only a mile or so from where I used to live.

A quarter of the 360 tokens in the collection display the year of the London fire, which killed 70,000 people. Alan Smith, head of Hansons’ Historica department, speculated that it was likely many of the tokens ‘flew out of pockets and bags’ amid people’s panicked attempt to escape the flames

Roger Green, who is from Kent, spent 35 years collecting the tokens, which were issued by traders instead of money due to a lack of available small change at the time

What were trading tokens? 

Trading tokens were coins which were issued by English tradespeople in the 17th century.

They circulated between 1648 and 1672, when copper coinage in England was in disarray. 

Small denominational coins were considered less important and so circulated in low numbers among the public.

After the English Civil war, Parliament resumed the minting of precious metal coinage, but small denominational coins were again neglected.

To facilitate transactions of low value, individual tradesmen and some local town authorities issued their own tokens in place of small change.

These tokens were redeemable in the shops or premises where they were issued and would not have circulated widely beyond the area in which they were issued.    

‘It was found at Billingsgate in London and was my reward for a particularly arduous dig.

‘Tokens from the river are usually in good condition as they’re in a sealed layer of silt which preserves them from the ravages of time.

‘Now I’ve decided it’s time to let my collection go. I’m getting older and have fewer opportunities to add new pieces.

‘Also, as I now live in Dorset, the draw of Kent pieces is not so strong.

‘I have my grandma to thank for my passion for collecting. She bought me an album and packet of foreign stamps when I was eight.

‘I found these fascinating and learned much about the world.

‘For me, the 17th century is a particularly fascinating period as it was the time of the English Civil War and then the Commonwealth before a return to the monarchy.

‘I hope the sale of my tokens will inspire others to enjoy collecting them.’ 

Auctioneer Mr Smith said: ‘During the panic and chaos of The Great Fire of London, the Thames offered water to quell the flames and a means of escape by boat.

‘In the panic, it’s likely many of these tiny trading tokens flew out of pockets and bags.

‘At the time, tokens were used as currency in London as no small-value coins were being minted by the government.

‘To enable them to do business, traders pressed their own farthing or half-penny tokens to give as change.

Auctioneer Mr Smith said: ‘During the panic and chaos of The Great Fire of London, the Thames offered water to quell the flames and a means of escape by boat. In the panic, it’s likely many of these tiny trading tokens flew out of pockets and bags’. Pictured: This token bears the name ‘Milton’ and the initials ‘WN’

The other side of the same token bears the name ‘Walter Ninn’. Mr Green said: ‘I started collecting coins but gradually moved to tokens. I find them more interesting as they’re personal to the people who issued and used them

‘They could be spent locally and were widely used between 1648 and 1673.

‘This token collection is impressive. We hear about Bitcoin and a cashless society but finding new ways to trade and pay for items is nothing new.

‘Hundreds of years ago, people came up with innovative ways to do just that.’

The Great Fire of London raged for days between September 2-6, 1666.

This token, which is dated 1668, is in the shape of a heart and bears the name William. On one side it reads ‘His Half Peny’

It gutted the medieval City of London, destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral and most City authority buildings.

It’s estimated that 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 inhabitants lost their homes.

The Roger Green Tokens Collection will go under the hammer on May 21-22 at Hansons Auctions in Etwall, Derbyshire. 

This coin was issued by tradesman Robert Dier, who appears to have been based in Chatham, Kent

THE DEVASTATION OF THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON 

The Great Fire of London was one of the most devastating disasters in the English capital’s history.

It began at 1am on Sunday 2 September, 1666, in Thomas Fariner’s bakery on Pudding Lane, East London. 

It is believed to have been caused by a spark from his oven falling onto a pile of fuel nearby.

The fire is said to have spread easily because London was ‘very dry after a long, hot summer’ and the area around Pudding Lane contained warehouses of timber, rope and oil. 

This was accompanied by a strong easterly wind. 

The Great Fire of London of 1666 was one of the most devastating disasters in the English capital’s history

The fire lasted just under five days but a third of London was destroyed including 13,200 houses, 87 churches and St Paul’s Cathedral.

It left around 100,000 people were made homeless and took architects 50 years to rebuild the city.

A Frenchman called Robert Hubert confessed to starting the Great Fire and was hanged, but later evidence proved he wasn’t in London at the time. 

As part of the rebuilding, officials decided to erect a permanent memorial of the Great Fire near the place where it began. 

Sir Christopher Wren, Surveyor General to King Charles II and the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, along with Dr Robert Hooke, provided a design for a Doric column. 

They drew up plans for a column containing a cantilevered stone staircase of 311 steps leading to a viewing platform. 

A drum and a copper urn from which flames emerged was placed at the top, symbolizing the Great Fire. 

The Monument, as it came to be called, is 202ft (61 metres) to reflect the exact distance between the column and the site in Pudding Lane where the fire began.

A plaque on the Monument reads: ‘The Monument designed by Sir Christopher Wren was built to commemorate the Great Fire of London 1666 which burned for three days consuming more than 13,000 houses and devastating 436 acres of the city. 

‘The Monument is 202ft in height, being equal to the distance westward from the bakehouse in Pudding Lane where the fire broke out.’ 

The fire lasted just under five days but a third of London was destroyed including 13,200 houses, 87 churches and St Paul’s Cathedral

The column was completed in 1677.  

In 1979 archaeologists excavated the remains of a burnt-out shop on Pudding Lane which was very close to the bakery where the fire started. 

In the cellar they found the charred remnants of 20 barrels of pitch (tar), a substance that burns easily and would have helped to spread the fire. 

Among the burnt objects from the shop, the archaeologists found melted pieces of pottery which show that the temperature of the fire was as high as 1,700 degrees Celsius.

Source: Museum of London 

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