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Trade token

Trade token
What was it used for? Instead of money
Where is it from? Guildford
When was it made? 1668
How was it made? Hammered
What was it made from? Bronze
Size: Diameter 25mm
Museum number: G.8126

This trade token was made for John May, a shoemaker in Guildford. He used it when he needed to give a customer a halfpenny change. There was lots of unofficial 'money' like this in the 1660s as low value coins such as halfpennies were in short supply because the country was bankrupt.

Bronze tokens such as this one must have been common in Guildford in the mid to late 17th century. It was a time of turmoil due to the great changes in government. The English Civil War (1642 - 1651) between supporters and opponents of the king, Charles I, ended with victory for his enemies, the Parliamentarians. After this, a parliament and council of state ruled the country until Oliver Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector. This position allowed Cromwell to govern with few restraints. In 1660, Charles I's son, Charles II, was restored to the throne.

All the fighting left the country effectively bankrupt and unable to afford to produce small value coins. However, people still needed to pay for goods and services - and receive change. Traders and shopkeepers made their own emergency, unofficial money. Guildford town even issued its own town tokens in 1668 to help relieve the crisis! In 1673, the crown started minting (making) its own official farthings (quarter pennies) and the crisis ended. Until then although these tokens were illegal whoever was running the country - king, parliament or Oliver Cromwell - turned a blind eye!

Shoemakers in the 17th century usually worked from workshops in their home. Therefore, we think John May lived, worked and was probably born in Guildford. Sadly, we do not know anything else about him - but we do know he was prepared to pay for tokens to be made for him so he could carry on his business.