To the Right Honorable the Lords of the Committee of Council appointed to take into
Consideration the state of the Coins of the Realm.
Having observd many Counterfeit pence getting into circulation in sundry parts of
ye Kingdome, I have taken some pains to find a clew to the makers, and by a proper
aplication of 50£ sterling I have obtaind my purpose. In consequence thereof I took
14 of my own trusty men (for I durst not trust our Birmingham Catchpolls) with the
Birmg constables & their assistants (having previously obtaind the legal powers from
our magistrates) & attacked 3 different Manufactories at the same instant & though
I had ye precaution to conceil from the Constables &c the names of the partis untill
the moment of attack yet one of them whose name is Pitt & is an old offender, found
means to elude our searches, as his Buildings are constructed to that purpose; but
we succeeded in our attack on the other two.
In the house and Shops of Richd Barber we found a coining press with Dies fixt on
it for striking counterfeit peny pieces, of which I send your Lordships a specimen,
there were a number of Blanks as well as money ready coined out of the sd Dies, we
also found a Milling Machine, Stamps and other tools adaptged for the purpose all
which we seizd with some counterfeit Shillings and likewise Barber himself, with
some of his Children that assisted him. At the same time another squadron of my people
went to the House of Thos Nichols & were informed that he was in the upper most Shop.
They mounted & entered but it was empty, Upon observing a secret door, they attempted
to pass, but found some resistance on ye other side, & a struggle ensued at length
ye Constable thrust his staff through, & upon sight of itNicholls, like Harlequin,
jumpd through a trap door upon a ladder, which he instantly kickd down and then descended
into a lower room in which there is no door, & he escaped through a Window contrived
for that purpose.
There were found in his possession great quantities of countft half crowns & shillings
both Silverd and unsilvered, many half pence counterfeiting those of the present
& last Reign. Many of the Shillings were wrapt up in papers of 21 each - also one
Gilt Counterfeit 7s piece with Dies, & some letters & accounts which serve to show
the names of the parsons who are the Circulators of this base coin.
I have reason to believe that there are many others in the Town of Birmgm, who follow
these Trades to a very great extent but they divide the operations - one man Rolls,
another cuts out the blanks & Mills them, another coins them another Silvers them
& others sink or engrave the Dies. All these people live in different parts of the
Town but they form themselves into Clubs, and resort to certain Public Houses wch
are known -
I think it possible to exterminate this Class of Coiners: but it will require attention,
activity, silence, prudence & some knowledge of the parties: & it will require a
considerable expence, for unless Men are paid well, it will be impossible to get
ye necessary information, & the Catchpolls complain that they have not been paid
sufficient for their time & expences. Your Lordships know enough of human nature
to know that any arguments about public good or Honorable principles, stand for nthing
with these men.
I have given one of them 50£ to lead me unto the Clew of detecting these people &
it will require a considerable expence to compleat this business: but if I enter
into that subject I shall loose the post.
Possibly it was due to a degree of hubris, but Boulton believed, or said he believed,
that one of the principal advantages of his method of striking coins was that it
would render them inimitable - unforgeable, in other words. Unfortunately, it seems
to have been the case that what one Birmingham manufacturer could produce, so could
others, even if without the absolute precision of the original article. But as we
find in our own times, with the fake 'designer' products so often seen, good enough
is often precisely that.
Given, or rather sold, some insider information about the activities of a group of
forgers who had been making their own versions of the 1797 and 1799 British pennies
and halfpennies, Boulton assembled his own forces and, with an authorisation from
the Birmingham magistrates, proceeded to raid the scene of the crime. The following
account was written by Boulton and sent to the Privy Council Committee on Coin in
I take the liberty of inclosing for your Lordships perusal a Copy of the depositions
taken by Mr Villers and Mr Hicks our 2 Magistrates. I also inclose an advertisement
I thought necessary to publish for the apprehending of Nicholls, & offering 20 guineas
reward. I likewise send herewith 6 pieces viz:
One copper silverd counterfeit halfcrown
One ditto ditto ditto shilling
One ditto unsilverd ditto ditto
One blank for peny pieces*
One coined counterfeit copper peny*
* their weights is =21 pieces in a lb and were bought in Octr when copper was cheaper.
One counterfeit halfpeny weighing after ye rate of 100 pieces in ye pound.
I have acted in this to the best of my Judgement and I hope will not be disaproved
by Your Lordships whose advice I now stand in need of & beg to be honourd with soon.
I am with the highest respect
Your Lordships most faithfull
& most devoted humbl Servt
Soho nr Birmgm
Jany 31 1799
The examination of the prisoners took place before the magistrates on 30th January.
Barber was remanded in order to proscute him at the assizes at Warwick on the ensuing
25th March and the case was prepared by the Treasury Solicitor.
This report is reproduced from H W Dickinson's 1936 work Matthew Boulton.