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Soho Mint - A World First!

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The End of Soho


There is no doubt that those good old days had come to an end with the death of Matthew Boulton in August 1809; days when every effort had been made to improve the mechanisms and techniques of the Mint, and when the coining of money was both the business and the interest of the proprietor. Boulton’s son, Matthew Robinson Boulton was fond enough of money, but showed interest in the making of it only in fits and starts. And Matthew Piers Watt Boulton, who inherited the Boulton enterprises on the death of his father Matthew Robinson in 1842, had no interest at all in the continuation of the Mint. Dr Doty described how he “gradually came to the conclusion that he would prefer a life of leisure to a life of coining, and a devoted body of retainers attempted to drum up business to persuade him otherwise. The outcome was inevitable and it would not be long in coming.” Indeed, the end came in April 1850 when the Mint was sold, lock, stock and barrel, by Messrs Fuller and Horsey, auctioneers of Billiter Street, London. Curiously, the Mint was described as being sold by “the executors of the late M R Boulton” even though this was eight years after his death.


But it is a little unfair to castigate the last of the Boultons as being entirely lackadaisical: he translated Greek classics, investigated solar heating, and in 1864 wrote and published a work ‘On Aerial Locomotion.’ He was granted a patent in 1868 for the aileron – that piece of moving mechanism which controls the lateral movement of all fixed wing aircraft to this day. Perhaps we should just accept that his interests were different to those of his grandfather.

Annand And Smith


The first half of the nineteenth century was a period of growth and expansion in the Australian colonies, partly driven by the transportation there of thousands of convicts from Great Britain, a practice which ceased in 1853, and partly by the presence of free settlers who saw greater opportunities there than in their homeland. Two of these voluntary migrants were George Annand and Robert Smith.


George Annand was born in Grange, Banffshire, in Scotland about 1798 or 1799, and is known to have left Aberdeen and to have arrived in Melbourne some time before 1843. Annand was successful in his new home. By 1847 he had become a City Councillor for the North Bourke area, and in 1853 was elected to the Victoria state Legislative Council. He was the recipient of much adverse comment for his suggestion, in the Council, that Victoria should become an independent state ‘under the Government of a member of the English Royal Family.’

At his death on 9th January 1856 at the age of 57, he had been Treasurer of the Independent Chapel on Collins Street for ‘upward of thirteen years.’ The Independent Chapel was originally constructed in 1841 and, under the Rev William Wakefield, was Melbourne’s first permanent Church.

At their half-yearly meeting in February 1856, the Directors of the Bank of Victoria were concerned to appoint a replacement ‘in the place of the late Mr Annand.’


Robert Smith was an Englishman, who was also known to have been in Melbourne by 1844, as it was in August of that year that both men, each described as ‘Merchant’ were signatories to an open letter supporting the Rev Peter Gunn, of Heidelberg, now a suburb of Melbourne, against imputations of ‘inactivity and querulousness’ made by a fellow cleric. Smith went on to marry, in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land, on 26th  May 1848, Isabella Robertson, of Roxburghshire. Later, he emigrated to New Zealand and died there in 1885.

A Triple Significance


The Annand Smith tokens have an importance of their own, as the very last products of the Soho Mint, but there are two further reasons why they are significant.


Firstly, they were the very first of a considerable number of tokens issued to relieve the currency shortage in Australia. The Annual Meeting of the Melbourne Numismatic Society on 5th March 1928 was told more:


The President, Mr E S Anthony, read a paper on ‘Numismatics relating to Melbourne.’

In opening his remarks, the President noted that the first real reference to Numismatics proper in Melbourne was the issue by Messrs Annand Smith & Co of tokens in 1849.


“Of traders’ tokens in general, there were thirty three issuers in the city proper and six in the suburbs. It is worthy of note that many of them were designed and made in Melbourne by the die sinkers and medallists W J Taylor, Thos Stokes, and later Stokes and Martin. I should mention that the honour, or rather distinction, of issuing the first tradesmen’s token in Australia belongs to Messrs Annand Smith & Co in 1849, as recorded in the ‘Argus’ of 20th October of that year. It is interesting to note that the opposition paper ‘The Melbourne Daily News’ of the 30th of the same month accused the Firm of ‘imitating current coin of the realm.’ The firm reported that they had ‘applications from all quarters of Melbourne and Geelong and other distant places’ for these tokens owing to the shortage of small change. Their place of business was at the corner of Queen and Collins Streets, on the site now occupied by the English, Scottish & Australian Bank.”


And, secondly, the demand for Annand Smith’s penny tokens exceeded the 45,503 shipped from Soho. With the closure of that Mint, it was necessary for an alternative supplier to be sought. This turned out to be Ralph Heaton & Sons, who had bought the equipment of the Soho Mint, almost in its entirety, at the sale in April 1850. It is very likely, therefore, that Annand Smith’s repeat order was not only Heaton’s first order, but that the tokens were struck on the same machinery which had been used earlier at Soho!

Hover your cursor over the images to see more detail



By 1847, not long before his marriage, Smith had opened a grocery store in Little Bourke Street, in the heart of Melbourne’s Chinese community, where Annand soon joined him, establishing a partnership which would last until June 1849. The business, which became known as Annand, Smith & Co., moved firstly to Little Collins Street, and then to number 73 Collins Street, at the corner of Queen Street - not the same location as today’s No.73! Collins Street is now the heart of Melbourne’s business district, and has always been regarded as one of Australia’s premier locations.


The two men had other, outside, interests in common, too. In November 1847, George Annand and Robert Smith had jointly become trustees of the Burial Ground for the Independent Chapel.


The business of grocer and merchant in Australia’s early days would have necessitated both local and international trading, with virtually all of the manufactured goods sold having to be imported from Great Britain and Europe. But as with Great Britain itself in earlier years, local trade was hampered by the lack of a circulating coinage. There was no indigenous Australian coin, and what was in use was a mixture of scarce and worn-out British and other foreign pieces. At some point, probably in 1848 or, possibly, early 1849, Annand & Smith decided that there was benefit to be gained from issuing their own token pennies.

Collins Street, Melbourne, in 1853.

Registration of Trustees for the Burial Ground

Token Pennies


Through their business, they must have established a connection with Thomas Elwell, a hardware merchant, of Compton Hall, a couple of miles from the centre of Wolverhampton in the English Midlands, as it was Elwell who sent an enquiry to Soho for the production of copper penny tokens. No doubt the enquiry was received with surprise, and maybe even a little consternation, as it is probable that the decision to close the Mint had already been made. A simple lettered die, with the inscription ANNAND SMITH & CO FAMILY GROCERS MELBOURNE was prepared for the obverse, and a BRITANNIA penny die similar, but certainly not identical, to those used for the coinage of 1806/7, was pressed into service for the reverse. 15,400 examples were struck, and were shipped from Soho on 23rd May 1849.


That they were soon on their way to Australia is shown by the publication of a piece in The Argus newspaper of Melbourne on 20th October 1849:



To obviate the extreme inconvenience occasioned by the scarcity of coppers, particularly by the grocers who have, not unfrequently, to pay a premium of from sixpence to a shilling in the pound for their Saturday night’s supply, Mr Councillor Annand has had coined, at Birmingham, a large supply of penny pieces, having on the one side the figure of Britannia, and, on the obverse, the inscription, “Annand, Smith, & Co., Family Grocers, Melbourne.” This expedient will have the effect, not only of increasing the copper coinage in circulation in the Province, but will also act as a most active standing advertisement for the house.


Not everyone, it seems, viewed the tokens quite so positively; on 30th October 1849, the Melbourne Daily News published a story about the ‘cheap method of advertising adopted by a certain grocery firm’ and told of a possible legal action against Annand. Given that the politics of Melbourne at the time were subject to extremely enthusiastic partisanship it could be, of course, that the problem was Councillor Annand himself, rather than his tokens!


Be that as it may, a second shipment of tokens left Soho on 12th October 1849 and a final batch was sent on 15th January 1850. The total number produced amounted to 45,503 pieces and they were the very last products of the Soho Mint. Given that the sea voyage to Australia took approximately three to four months, the second and third batches of tokens must have been produced before any account could have been received at Soho as to the reception accorded the first batch!


Although the tokens (and the business!) carried the names of Annand and Smith, it seems that by the date of their production the partnership was over. The New South Wales Government Gazette for April 1850 (the separate colony of Victoria was not established until 1851) carried a notice, dated 4th June 1849 to the effect that Robert Smith had retired from the firm of Annand Smith, Grocers and Merchants, and that the business would continue under George Annand. A similar notice, of the same date, confirmed that George Annand had retired from Thomas Fulton & Co, Engineers, Founders and Millers, but that this business would continue with the remaining partners Thomas Fulton and Robert Smith.

Compton Hall

near Wolverhampton

From The Argus

20th October 1849

From The NSW Gazette

April 1850

From The Argus

27th June 1848



It is possible to distinguish the products of the two mints. The original coinage of pennies in 1806 and 1807 had borne the SOHO mintmark, in relief, on the rock upon which Britannia’s shield is resting. The die used by Soho for the Annand Smith tokens did not show this; there was no mintmark, and the initial ‘K’ of Conrad Heinrich Küchler, has been erased from the rocks between Britannia’s shield and her spear. This reverse has been identified as R96 by Peck in his work ‘English Copper, Tin and Bronze Coins in the British Museum’ as being the same reverse as used for the restrike proof pennies, dated 1806, but struck much later.


By the time Heaton’s started their production, they would have been in possession of at least some of the dies purchased at the Soho sale in 1850, and their version of the Annand Smith penny has the reverse of a circulation-strike penny of 1806. Küchler’s initial can be seen clearly, and the Heaton mintmark, H&S, was added to take pride of place on the rock.














There are differences, too, in the olive branch held by Britannia; Soho pieces (left) show 13 leaves and olives, while the Heaton’s die (right) shows only 11.


Unfortunately, Heaton’s records for their Australian token business have not survived, so we have no indication of the quantities struck.

Annand Smith Token

Soho Mint

Annand Smith Token

Heaton’s Mint



by Chris Leather

The Last Hurrah!

“It is difficult to conceive of the conditions under which those final pieces must have been struck: a lonely press running in one corner of the Mint while workmen were busily dismantling machinery in another..” These few words, written by Dr Richard Doty in his work ‘The Soho Mint and the Industrialisation of Money’ paint a picture of a last flickering spark among the ashes of what had been a furnace of global significance. Yet even this last spark retained something of that global feel, for the Soho was producing good, full weight, penny tokens for the Melbourne Grocers Annand, Smith & Co – pieces which in every respect reflected the spirit of the good old days.

A Final Note


As a final note, the President of the Melbourne Numismatic Society mentioned in his presentation that many of the locally produced tokens had been made by W J Taylor, medallist and die sinker. This is the same W J Taylor whose principal project in Australia was the Kangaroo Office in Melbourne from which he issued the extremely rare and desirable gold patterns.


However, in 1850, before moving to Australia, Taylor had purchased a considerable number of the dies and punches from the Soho sale then later, back in London after his return from Australia, he produced a large variety of restrikes, and fabrications, from the 1860s onward, which have puzzled and infuriated generations of numismatists, and at least some of which he presented to no less a luminary than Matthew Piers Watt Boulton.


It would seem very possible, therefore, that the die used by Soho for the Annand Smith tokens was then reused by Taylor to produce the R96 restrike pennies!