IBBERSON, THE GEORGE & BLUE BOAR, & MATTHEW BOULTON
Halfpennies which very nearly happened.
With many thanks to the late Dr Richard G Doty, the text of whose article on the
subject is incorporated in this paper, with permission.
One of the more obscure representatives of Soho’s productions is the pattern halfpenny
token made for Christopher Ibberson, proprietor of The George and Blue Boar, a hostelry
in High Holborn, London. In its day, this inn played an essential role in the British
transportation network, being the starting place for coaches bound for the North,
and the pattern token struck for it proudly proclaimed the importance of the establishment.
The Ibberson token is one of the more interesting pieces of the period struck by
Matthew Boulton, but it has not received the attention which its background and history
might reasonably claim for it, perhaps due to two considerations. Firstly, it is
quite scarce: few collectors have seen one. Secondly, the token is undated, a characteristic
which it shares with several other members of the Boulton series.
On the face of things, there are good reasons for surmising that the piece was struck
in the early 1790s, and equally good ones for suggesting a later date.
The designer, Noël-Alexandre Ponthon, signed the more common of the two varieties
comprising the issue - DH342; on the rarer DH339, the boar forming the crest is
smaller and Ponthon’s signature is absent, but this artist was in Boulton’s employ
from 1st July 1791 to 25th April 1795, so that the simple addition of his name to
a token does not closely date it for us.
The addition of a lettered edge reading PAYABLE AT THE GEORGE & BLUE BOAR LONDON
would suggest that the token dates from the earlier 1790s, because Boulton gradually
abandoned edge-lettering as that decade wore on. The weight, however, would suggest
the opposite: the five specimens Dr Doty had the opportunity to examine (one DH339
and four DH342) averaged 9.91 grammes, which tallies well with other Boulton halfpenny
pieces from the middle of the decade, less well with those dated earlier in it. In
brief, there are characteristics of this token which argue in both directions, and
we cannot date it solely from the evidence provided by its appearance.
Fortunately, more certain means of dating the token have been found. In the Matthew
Boulton papers held by the Birmingham Reference Library, there exist two letters
from Christopher Ibberson to Matthew Boulton. They clearly establish the date of
the tokens, and they also explain their scarcity.
The first letter is dated 20th December 1794:
Agreeable to your request have herewith sent you the two Great Coates wich I hope
will please – the price £1.3.0 each. I have consulted my sons and have consider’d
the matter concerning the Halfpence and have made up our minds at present to only
have half a ton. I am convinced they will come to a little more but that we must
put up with. I hope and trust you will lose no time in getting them done and will
thank you to send us a pattern before you go on with them.
I am Yrs Respectfully,
The reference to ‘Great Coates’ is currently inexplicable, although it obviously
suggests that Boulton and Ibberson had other financial interests besides the order
for tokens. The half a ton which was requested would have resulted in around 51,500
tokens, based on the average weight of the patterns found today. For whatever reason,
this was a smaller quantity than earlier discussed, and Ibberson observes he would
therefore have to accept a slightly higher cost.
References throughout the text to DH339, DH342 etc are to the Ibberson pieces as
listed in the Middlesex section of Dalton & Hamer’s monumental work ‘The Provincial
Token Coinage of the 18th Century’
Boulton complied with request for a pattern. It would seem likely that the first
pieces to be struck were the DH339 type, which, as Sharp [see note] observed as early
as 1834, featured an obverse with two small edge defects. Sharp added that this die
was lapped and re-used. In fact, it was combined with the reverse die of Wexford
DH1-4 to produce a Middlesex mule DH340 dated 1800. For the substantive issue of
Ibberson tokens, this die would have yielded place to the second obverse die, while
the original reverse die continued in use for the remainder of the issue.
But the Ibberson order was never completed. In February 1795 Boulton received another
letter from Ibberson himself setting out his reasons for a change of mind.
The second letter is dated 18th February 1795:
In consequence of what appear’d in the Gazette a few evenings ago, there is not a
doubt but the Circulation of the new Halfpence will be Stopped, & I therefore request
that you will not go on with the order I gave you, & if you will be so good as to
let me know the expense you have already been at I will immediately settle it.
I am yr obdt hble Servt
Boulton immediately ordered a cessation of work, scrawling:
on the back of the letter.
The Gazette mentioned in this document has never been identified; it may have been
a local newspaper in the Holborn area, of which no trace has survived. In any case
there was much current discontent with the recent flood of short-weight tokens and
counterfeit copper tokens, and a demand for change was in the air. Ibberson may have
overreacted, but he had seen the future, and it lay with Matthew Boulton’s copper
coinage, not with his copper tokens. And there the matter rested. No indication has
been found that the innkeeper ever paid Boulton for the few tokens which had been
struck, or indeed that Boulton ever billed him for his services. But Ibberson never
reopened his order, and the few tokens which had been struck went into the hands
of collectors, rather than into the pockets of his patrons.
A view of the George & Blue Boar, Holborn
The Ibberson Halfpenny DH342
Soho Mint 1795
Hover your cursor over an image to see the piece greatly enlarged
Dalton & Hamer suggests that Christopher Ibberson’s tokens exist in a number of states
DH338 is an artist’s proof in white metal of the original obverse die but without
the boar. D&H report this to be unique, with the only example being in the British
DH339 is the finished design, with a small boar on the obverse and without Ponthon’s
signature on the exergual line, which is believed to be the original pattern.
DH340 is an oddity showing the ‘small boar’ obverse paired with a reverse die from
the Inniscorthy token produced by Boulton and dated ‘AD1800.’
DH341 is another oddity, showing the ‘small boar’ obverse die paired with a very
plain reverse with the inscription ‘SIX/PENCE/1800’ This is also believed to be unique
with D&H reporting only the example in the British Museum.
DH342, with what is thought to be a replacement for a defective obverse die, is the
finished design but with a larger boar on the obverse, together with Ponthon’s signature
on the exergue line. Most of the surviving versions of Ibberson’s token are this
type, which is presumably what remains from the start of production of the substantive
DH343 are fantasy pieces produced by W J Taylor of London probably in the 1870s.
They show a version of the ‘small boar’ obverse, together with a new reverse die
in the style of the original, but with many minor differences. These were produced
in copper, brass and white metal for sale to collectors.
The ‘small boar’ obverse used by Taylor for his DH343 is not the same as the original
pattern DH339, as the flaws evident on that piece are missing and, quite diagnostic,
the initial which appeared as ‘C’ on the original looks like ‘G’ on the copy. Taylor
was notorious for producing new dies and new types at will from the stock of Soho
dies and punches he bought at the sale of the mint in 1850
The total numbers struck for any of the varieties are not known; D&H list DH343 as
Scarce, and all the others as at least Rare.
And what of Christopher Ibberson himself. There is little biographical information,
but traces of him appear in various public records.
In 1779, Christopher Ibberson, son of Christopher Ibberson, Victualler of Holborn,
was entered as a pupil at St Paul’s School. This was, and is, an extremely prestigious
educational establishment, founded in 1509.
This rather suggests that Ibberson was a respectable citizen, with a good standing
in society, as he also appears as a member of the Second Middlesex Jury for the King’s
Commission of the Peace, Oyer and Terminer, and General Gaol Delivery for the City
of London, in 1790, and a member of the First Middlesex Jury for the Commission of
Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery were the Law terms used to describe the
Commissions under which the Judges of Assize conducted the trials of those accused
of criminal offences. The system was replaced by the Crown Courts in 1971.
Whether it was a case involving Christopher Ibberson as a juryman is not known, but
court records exist regarding an allegation of theft against one Mary Cave, servant
to William Turner, the publican of the French Horn public house across the road from
‘Ibberson’s, the George.’ The accused was found guilty, very quickly it would seem,
and sentenced to transportation for a period of seven years. The case was tried by
the Second Middlesex Jury.
Court records also show that the George & Blue Boar was well known locally. In September
1796, Charles Scoldwell stood trial for the theft of two tame ducks, valued at 3
shillings. During cross-examination, the driver of the stage coach from Bedford,
who had brought Scoldwell to London, was asked: Is there a more public inn in Holborn,
or more coaches go from any inn, except the George and Blue-Boar? to which he replied
'I don’t believe so.’ In any event Scoldwell got more transportation than he had
Richard Costar and Christopher Ibberson’s
‘Ludlow to Worcester Mail Coach On The Road 1811’
The London end of this service terminated at the George & Blue Boar
As well as providing the London terminus for a number of coach routes, it would appear
that Christopher Ibberson was also involved in the delivery of the services themselves.
The illustration shows Richard Costar and Christopher Ibberson’s ‘Ludlow to Worcester
Mail Coach On The Road 1811.’ Going north, the service started from the George &
Blue Boar, calling at the Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly, on the way.
Richard Costar was a coachmaster of Cowley and Oxford where he had built up a substantial
coaching business. At this time Oxford was a major hub of the coaching network. He
died at the age of 74 on 25 September 1840, and his short obituary appeared in Jackson's
Oxford Journal the following day:
Yesterday morning, at his residence in St. Clement's, after a long illness, Richard
Costar, Esq. the well-known and highly-respected coach proprietor of this city. Mr.
Costar lived to see the best days of coaching, and it may be truly said that no man
ever carried on a concern in a more creditable manner. He was most punctual in his
payments to his tradesmen, and an excellent master to good servants; and many will
long have to regret his loss.
He was buried at Benson on 2 October 1840.
However prosperous and respectable Christopher Ibberson may have been, it would appear
that times were not always easy. The London Gazette - the official newspaper of record
- records on 29th January 1799 the issue of a Commission of Bankrupt against Christopher
Ibberson and Christopher Ibberson Junior, described as being ‘stable-keepers, dealers
and chapmen’ with a requirement that they attend bankruptcy hearings on 9th and 16th
February 1799, being prepared to discover and disclose their effects.
On 30th March 1799, the London Gazette recorded the discharge from bankruptcy of
both Christopher Ibberson and Christopher Ibberson Junior having paid their creditors.
It also seems that Christopher Ibberson did not own the George and Blue Boar, despite
being its publican. A notice appeared in the London Gazette in April 1812 announcing
the sale of a number of properties in London, on 12th May 1812, in compliance with
a decree of the High Court of Chancery resulting from a civil case quoted as Hebden
against Park. Lot 4 comprised the George and Blue Boar, described as being a freehold
property in the occupation of Mr Christopher Ibberson, and being ‘considered the
first inn in the metropolis.’
Hover your cursor over the image to see the piece
Hover your cursor over an image to see the piece greatly enlarged
Thomas Sharp 1770-1841 of Coventry and Leamington was a hatter by trade and an antiquarian
by inclination. His major published work was :
‘A Catalogue of Provincial Copper Coins, Tokens, Tickets, and Medalets issued in
Great Britain, Ireland, and the Colonies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
... described from the originals in the collection of Sir George Chetwynd, Baronet’
and published in an edition of 60 copies in 1834