Published in Spink’s Numismatic Circular, November 1977, and re-published here with
the kind permission of Messrs Spink & Son and the author, with whom the copyright
In the past there has always been a certain amount of controversy regarding the status
of these copper pieces. Are they the result of an official coinage made by the Barbados
authorities, or are they merely tokens struck and circulated on the orders of a private
individual? Major Fred Pridmore writing in his book ‘The Coins of the British Commonwealth
of Nations – Part 3 West Indies’ has no hesitation in siding with the latter train
of thought. Several factors conspire to make it extremely unlikely that the Barbados
pieces represent a Government issue. The omission of the reigning Sovereign’s head
on the coin acts as a powerful argument against an official attribution. Equally
convincing is the absence of any traceable documentation giving the currency legal
tender status in Barbados. The choice of obverse design may also be described as
unusual. A blackamoor’s head with the motto I SERVE has obvious connotations relating
to the negroes’ position in society. Whilst one can imagine such a sentiment being
popular amongst West Indian plantation owners, it would have received a distinctly
frosty reception from the anti-slavery lobby in Britain. All-in-all, an inconceivable
set of circumstances for a legal coinage issued by a British colony.
To the numismatist, the Barbados ‘Pineapple’ penny series is additionally complicated
by the presence of several proof restrikes and specially concocted pieces. From this
maze, Major Pridmore has succeeded in isolating what he concluded to be two totally
separate currency issues of the 1788 penny. The first of these types was struck in
October 1788 for Sir Philip Gibbs Bt . The mintage was restricted to only 5,376 pieces,
each weighing half an ounce of copper, struck from dies engraved by John Milton .
This information is obtained from the writings of the Rev. Roger Ruding who himself
is quoting an ‘Extract from the late Mr Milton’s MS List of his works.’
Information on the second currency type penny is much more difficult to acquire.
The issuer, the date struck, and the manufacturer, are all unknown. This despite
the fact that it is by far the commoner of the two issues, and from a comparison
of occurrences must have had a mintage approaching 200,000 pieces. Major Pridmore
suggests that this repeat order was very probably minted by another manufacturer
who simply copied Milton’s original design. He further surmises that the manufacturer
in question may have been J G Hancock of Birmingham. This hypothesis is based upon
the examination of a Barbados 1788 penny (Pr 21A) which is struck on a blank with
the edge inscription PAYABLE AT THE WAREHOUSE OF RICHARD PALEY . XX . This identifies
the nature of the original blank as being prepared for striking the 1791 Leeds halfpenny
tokens of Richard Paley. According to Pye five tons of the Paley tokens were manufactured
by John G Hancock who was also given credit for engraving the dies. While, therefore,
seemingly a natural conclusion to associate the Barbados piece with Hancock, this
by no means should be treated as an absolute attribution. Such are the vagaries of
the British eighteenth century token series that the muling of dies and blanks belonging
to different manufacturers is quite commonplace.
These terms proved acceptable to W & P Cunningham’s customer, who on 8th July revealed
his identity by corresponding with Matthew Boulton directly. The text of the letter,
appearing below, has had the worst of the spelling mistakes corrected for ease of
Mr Matthew Bowlton
Messrs W & P Cunningham Was favoured with yours on the 4th Current. The 40,000 halfpennies
(!) they wrote you about, was, for a friend that I have got in Barbados – which will
probably give you Several Commissions – and I agree to your offer at 14d per lb and
each halfpenny (!) to weight half an ounce – They must be made the very Same as this
penny piece which you will receive in my Letter – and please Forward This Small order
as fast as possible – and get them packed in Casks; and you will address them to
Mr John Arnot & Co. Bakers at Bridge Town Barbados West Indies.
I don’t think that there is any occasion for insuring them. Their freight will be
paid there, but you may make agreement with the Ship master and send them with the
first Ship that Sails to Barbados and write a letter to them along with the halfpennies
(!) You will please draw upon me at Sir William Forbes’s & Co Bankers and the Money
shall be paid. The Engraving of the Dies I agree to pay and you Can keep them by
our for to be at Redress when ever you get another order – and when they are done
with them, you Can give them at what they may be worth to you. I think the whole
will amount to about £94-10-0d. Sterling. The 40,000 Barbados Penny pieces and the
Making of the Dies and Casks to hold the halfpennies (!) – you will be so good as
to write me when you receive this. If you must have the Money before the Work be
Done or which way you would wish to have the Money to you Sent, and you think on
any other way better than Drawing on me, you may let me know.
I am, Sir,
Your Most Humble Servant
PS You must not put nothing round the Edges of penny piece, make it the very self
as the enclosed piece.
Mr William Arnot ran a bakery business from Canongate, Edinburgh, and was ordering
the coinage on behalf of his brother who was the proprietor of a firm of bakers under
the name John Arnot and Co of Bridgetown, Barbados. Strict instructions were given
that the new coins should be exact replicas of those ordered for the Island by Sir
Philip Gibbs in 1788.
New evidence has come to light in the Soho Mint Records which not only supports Major
Pridmore’s suppositions regarding the Barbados 1788 penny, but confirms that a third
issue was contemplated. In June 1791, Matthew Boulton received a letter mistakenly
directed to the firm of Boulton & Watt – the business of which was steam engines,
not coinage – from W & P Cunningham, Goldsmiths, of Lady Stairs Close Edinburgh.
Having been inform’d you are the most proper people to exicute an order which is
described as under have taken the opportunity of writing you.
We are apply’d to for Forty Thousand Copper Coins same as an impression herewith
inclosed they weigh one half ounce each but before they will give the posotive order
for them they must have an estimate which they will come about. We are perfectly
unacquainted how such may be given to begin course you will write and instruct the
Charge of cutting the Dye etc., and what the neat cost of them including it will
be. Iff they agree the charge make not the least doubt but a much greater quantity
will be wanted an an after period.
If you think it necessary shall send the Coin itself, beging attention to this our
first correspondence. We are
Your Most Obedient Humble Servants
W & P Cunningham
PS Beneath the head the impression is faint but the words are I SERVE and round the
reverse (which is a pineapple) BARBADOES . PENNY . 1788 – address us Goldsmith, Lady
Boulton replied to the letter on 29th June 1791
Messrs W & P Cunningham
Your favour of the 24th instant addressed to B&W should have been sent to me only.
The Copper Pieces of half ounce each I can furnish you with, I flatter myself to
your satisfaction as I have the best and most powerful Coining apparatus in the World.
The quantity you want is so very small as to oblige me to charge the Engraving of
the Dies and puncheons which will cost me much more than 20 Guineas, tho I shall
only charge them that sum. If you had Order’d Ten Tons I should not have charged
them anything or if you order 5 Tons I should charge the ten Guineas but as the 40,000
will only weigh about ½ Ton or 11cwt will not amount to more than 16 or £17 over
and above the cost of the Copper.
The Edinburgh ½ pence are not perfectly round or of equal Diameter because they are
not struck in steel collars, whereas all I do are like Medals struck in collars.
They are also of a better polish than others.
My price for such halfpence put on board one of our Canal boats is 14d per lb and
20s per Ton of money for New firm Ironbound Casks containing 300lb each.
In case my terms are agreeable to you I should be glad to receive the piece of Money
from which you impressed the paper sent me, so it will be more distinct for my Engraver.
You also please inform me if you would have any inscription upon the Edge and What
In hopes of your speedy reply I remain
Your most Obedient and Humble Servant
In order to satisfy such a small order, most of the effort at the Soho Mint would
have gone in the preparation and engraving of the punches, matrix dies and money
dies. This was reflected in the high die charges of twenty guineas. All the other
costs including copper, coining and packaging, etc., amounted to only £80.
IThe fourth and final letter in the series was written early in November 1791 and
contains a request that all further work on the coinage should cease.
Your Servant James Murdock called and I paid him Five Guineas, according to your
order he wanted More but I did not agree to it.
I have received a letter from my Brother in Barbados and he writes me that there
is so Many of the penny pieces that I gave you and order to make, Sent from England
to the Island of Barbados – That they are all Cryed Down, and down goe for nothing.
I Beg if you have not made the penny pieces to Stop and if they are made and not
Sent off – you will not Send them – Till I consider how I am to get off in this Misfortunate
Concern – you will be so good as to write Me and give Me your best advice in this
– I am very much afraid that they will come upon Me for apart of the loss – for I
exceeded their order – I gave you an order for 40,000 then their order was only 24,000.
But as I saw it if they had succeeded, that me exceeding their order will have been
of Service to them; but as it happens they blame me very much, but I did it for the
best. You will please advice when ever this comes to hand.
I am Dear Sir
Your Most Humble Servant
All-in-all it seems as though the writer is feeling rather sorry for himself. It
would appear that through sheer greed, initial instructions relating to the quantity
of penny pieces required had been ignored. To make matters worse, the currency situation
in Barbados had undergone a rapid transformation. At the beginning of 1791 the colony
had been desperately short of copper coin, yet within the space of a few months the
island had become swamped with ‘pineapple’ penny pieces. Supply outstripped demand
and surplus copper coin was left in the hands of the issuer. Faced with this situation,
John Arnot & Co decided to cancel their order. Fortunately preparations were not
too far advanced, and Boulton was able to oblige in this matter.
On the face of it, the lack of progress made by the Soho Mint on the coinage for
Arnot & Co is rather puzzling, yet it must be remembered that 1791 was the year in
which Boulton encountered great difficulty in recruiting a permanent engraver. In
the spring of that year, Boulton dispensed with the services of Jean Pierre Droz.
His replacement, Rambert Dumarest, departed some three months later on 21st July,
when by mutual agreement the homesick engraver returned to his native France. His
place at Soho was taken by another Frenchman, Noel Alexandre Ponthon. Although Ponthon’s
contract as staff engraver with Boulton dated back to 1st July 1791 he was unavoidably
prevented from taking up his position until the second week in August. In the midst
of these difficulties the Soho Mint was attempting to fulfil their two largest and
most important contracts to date. The Barbados coinage must have paled in significance
when compared with those ordered by the Paris merchants the Monneron Freres, and
by the United East India Company for their Bombay Presidency. The Mint was working
at full capacity and in order to assist with the engraving of days, Boulton recruited
the temporary services of Thomas Wyon. There is a journal entry against the 28th
November 1791 which states the following:
“Paid note to Thomas Wyon for sinking the negro die and other things in the months
of August and September last – 81/-“
The ‘negro die’ mentioned obviously refers to the Barbados coinage. A more complete
description of this die is given in the catalogue of the Soho Mint closure sale held
on Tuesday 30th April 1850:
“Lot 240 – HEAD OF A NEGRO. With Crown & Prince of Wales’s Feathers, beneath, the
motto ‘I serve.’ One obverse die and punch.”
Although the Soho Mint version of the Barbados penny never materialised, the correspondence
connected with it provides valuable information regarding the series in general.
Boulton’s obvious willingness to undertake this coinage must remove any lingering
suspicion that the copper pieces ever represented a Government issue. Boulton, unlike
many other Birmingham manufacturers, steadfastly refused to copy coins of foreign
governments, let alone those belong to the British Crown. Instead, the Barbados ‘pineapple’
penny should be treated as tokens ordered by private individuals. Ironically, in
view of the failure of later government copper issues in the West Indies, these tokens
found some measure of success. The first issue, made by Sir Philip Gibbs in 1788,
must have proved popular and encouraged a different issuer to risk ordering a much
larger quantity. This second issue, on the evidence of William Arnot’s letter of
2nd November, many now be allotted to the year 1791. This is the same year as J G
Hancock struck the Richard Paley token of Leeds. It suggests that the coin bearing
an impression of a Barbados penny on a blank belonging to the Leeds token may be
a strictly contemporary striking, and, if so, considerably strengthens the claim
of Hancock to the second issue of the ‘Pineapples’
Numismatists and collectors can only speculate what kind of superior version would
have emanated from Soho.
This piece appeared in Spink’s Numismatic Circular for June 1937, when it was offered
for sale for £6.0s.0d.
The Obverse and Reverse of a Soho Mint Pattern for the ‘Barbadoes’ Pineapple Penny,
but dated 1791. Hover your cursor for a larger view.