About Conder Tokens
Conder Tokens, also known as 18th Century Provincial Tokens, are a form of privately minted token coinage struck and used during the latter part of the 18th Century and the early part of the 19th Century in England, Anglesey and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
The driving force behind the need for token coinage was the shortage of small denomination coins for everyday transactions. However, the demand was fuelled by other factors such as the Industrial Revolution, population growth, and the preponderance of counterfeit circulating coins. Because the government made little effort to ameliorate this shortage, private business owners and merchants took matters into their own hands, and the first tokens of this type were issued in 1787 to pay workers at the Parys Mine Company. By 1795, millions of tokens of a few thousand varying designs had been struck and were in common use throughout Great Britain.
Collecting Conder tokens has been popular since shortly after they were first manufactured, resulting in the availability today of many highly preserved examples for collectors. The demarcation of what is or is not considered a Conder token is somewhat unclear; however, most collectors consider Conder tokens to include those indexed originally by James Conder or later by Dalton & Hamer.
The tokens of the late 18th century were primarily produced to be used as small change (mainly halfpence, although farthing and penny tokens are often come by), and were necessary due to the lack of official small denomination coinage produced by the mint. The variety of different tokens kicked off a collecting craze, and soon they were being produced purely for the collectors market (it sort of reminds me of the Royal Mints current 50p practices).
Some realised that these tokens had potential greater than just making money from collectors. Radicals, such as Thomas Spence, realised that they could spread their revolutionary ideas via tokens to a greater audience. Spence advertised his pamphlets on his tokens, such as ‘Pigs Meat’, as well as captions and images relating to his radical ideas.
Other tokens celebrated the radicals themselves. One such token showed the London Corresponding Society, which called for a reform of parliament and spread revolutionary ideas. The society grew quite large, with huge crowds attending some of their events. Several tokens were produced to celebrate the acquittal of Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke, and other radicals and members of the London Corresponding Society who were tried for treason and other crimes. These pieces often reference those who defended the radicals during their trial, T Erskine and V Gibbs.
There were also tokens which called for a reform of prisons, such as the Bath token featuring John Howard. Howard appears on several pieces from the period, and was a well known advocate for prison reform.
Contrary to all of these tokens which were produced in support of the radicals and revolutionaries, were those produced by loyalists. One such token shows the revolutionary Thomas Paine hanging from a gibbet. Paine was a supporter of the French Revolution and spread revolutionary ideas in the US, with one of his works, ‘Common Sense’, being one of the most read pamphlets among American revolutionaries. The reverse of the token shows the date that King Louis XVI of France was executed, and suggests that the ideas that Paine was spreading would cause King George III to suffer a similar fate.