A trade token from the Diss area issued by the Ipswich town corporation, dated 1670.
On its obverse face the token displays the inscription ‘AN IPSWICH FARTHING 1670’ arranged in four lines, while on its reverse are the arms of Ipswich arranged within a shield (per pale, dexter: a lion rampant, sinister: three ship’s hulls). Ipswich is not alone within East Anglia for its town corporation issuing tokens: Lowestoft, Norwich and King’s Lynn all issued their own pieces through the late 1660s and early 1670s.
Over 20 of these types of trade tokens have been recorded on the national Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database. Almost all of these originate from the wider Ipswich area itself, although one (recorded on the PAS database as DUR-B99F86) was discovered over 200 miles away in North Yorkshire. This pattern is typical amongst other trade token issues, which typically show use and loss of most within a 5 mile radius of where they were manufactured, strongly supporting the notion that local tokens were intended for local commerce.
In 1648, the four years of the first English Civil War (1642-1646) and the incipience of the second in August of the same year, lead to a great shortage of coin. As the royalists and parliamentarians struggled for supremacy, the execution of King Charles I in 1649 and institution of Oliver Cromwell as ‘Lord Protector of the English Commonwealth’ removed the traditional perogative of the monarch to have sole rights over issuing coinage, since effectively there was no ‘king’ on the throne.
It was in this context that the first issuing of trade tokens took place, a coinage issued by the people for the people. With the earliest examples issued in 1648, individual merchants, tradesmen and shopkeepers began effectively issuing their own money in the form of copper farthings, followed by halfpence in and after 1656. Penny and even twopence tokens were issued through the 1660s, though these were noticeably less common than the farthing and halfpence denominations, clearly indicating the need for the smallest denominations of change.
Town corporations even bought into the process, issuing so called ‘town pieces’ intended as coin to be issued ‘for use of the poor’. In the 1660s and into the 1670s, even after the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in 1660, trade tokens continued to be issued until suppressed by two Acts of Royal Authority in 1672 and 1674 respectively, bringing the issuing of tokens to a sharp close.
It is estimated that over 20,000 different people issued trade tokens across England during this period of 26 years. In 1674, large amounts of trade tokens were recalled and destroyed – this means that there are around 6,000 known issuers for whom no tokens are currently known to exist. The advent of the PAS and more responsible detectorists reporting their finds has lead to the discovery of many previously unknown issuers and unique pieces, lost or dispersed across the countryside in the process of farming, travelling, trading and general life.
View the full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database
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This find was recorded by the Suffolk Finds Recording Team, supported by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.