One of the prime characteristics of Soho Mint was that it was an intermittent operation,
carrying Matthew Boulton’s industrialization of money forward by fits and starts.
In this sense, the world’s first modern mint was completely unlike its current descendants,
which strike coinage consistently, year after year. But Boulton’s mint was private,
and its master must beat the bushes for any orders he received, fighting an uphill
battle against public and private suspicion and lethargy. The intermittent record
of his coinage reflected the coiner’s difficulties.
This is not to say that Soho could not coin fast and furiously upon occasion. It
most certainly could and did, especially in the years between 1797 and 1808, when
it made money for Britain, Ireland, and India. But if we examine all three coinages,
we see that each was concentrated within a year or two, three at the most. None went
on with the predictable regularity we might expect (and which Boulton would have
preferred, for the sake of his machinery and his peace of mind). In fact, in the
entire record of the Boulton coinage, there is only one instance of a reasonably
long-lived, predictable monetary production, one running for no less than four consecutive
years. This instance involves a token, not a coin.
The token in question was a halfpenny for a Scottish firm named Mackintosh, Inglis
& Wilson, which did business in the town of Inverness, ‘Capital of the Highlands’.
Located at the mouth of the River Ness, Inverness was and remains a bustling seaport;
Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson did its bit by manufacturing sailcloth and tough textiles
for sacks and bags at a mill known as the Citadel Works. What little is known about
this concern will be found in Robert C. Bell’s Commercial Coins, 1787-1804 (1963),
and Richard Thomas Samuel’s The Bazaar, Exchange and Mart, and Journal of the Household
(1880-1889; our best repository of information on the eighteenth-century series,
reprinted in 1994 by the Davissons with a concordance by Harold Welch). I can add
nothing by way of background material. But I can provide information concerning production
and shipment of the tokens, and this I am happy to do.
The first reference to the Inverness project in the Matthew Boulton Papers comes
on 13 December 1793, when nine casks of halfpence are recorded as having been struck
for Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson. That firm was charged £133.15s.3d. for 2,918 pounds
8 ounces of copper. Since Boulton charged 4 ½ pence per pound for turning the raw
copper into halfpenny tokens, another £54.14s.5d. was incurred for coining - plus
£1.19s.0d. for nine casks, paper, string, etc. and another £4.4s.0d. for dies. This
last amount leads me to expect that two obverse and two reverse dies were prepared,
because Boulton commonly charged a guinea per die at this time; I have a suggestion
as to the fate of that second pair of dies. The grand total due Matthew Boulton from
Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson was £194.12s.8d. The firm took its time in paying up,
and it is not until 23 October 1794 that a bill of exchange for that amount crossed
the coiner’s till.
The general design of the Inverness halfpenny was as follows. On the obverse, a rose
and thistle (for England and Scotland) were intertwined and tied with a ribbon, symbolic
of the unity between the two parts of the island. The reverse bore a cornucopia of
flowers with the legend CONCORDIA ET FIDELITAS - friendship and faithfulness. A rock
beneath the cornucopia bore the date. The reverse design is somewhat awkward, suggesting
to me that it was the firm’s idea rather than Boulton’s. A new designer, Conrad Heinrich
Kuchler, engraved the dies, some of his earliest work for Soho Mint. Based on observed
weights, the price of copper, and Boulton’s practice with other coinages during this
period, I believe he struck the Inverness order at forty-two pieces per pound - suggesting
a mintage of approximately 122,577 pieces on this first occasion.
Inverness DH1, Halfpenny Token, 1793
Inverness DH2, Halfpenny Token, 1794
Other occasions followed, in 1794, 1795, and 1796. But later tokens bore two important
differences in design. First, the date was moved from the reverse to the obverse.
And second, the rock beneath the cornucopia was now given a name - Clach-na-Cudden.
Bell recounts the origins of the name: the stone (clach, in Gaelic) lay at the foot
of the market cross in the heart of Inverness, and when women came down to the river
to fill their wooden buckets (cudden), they found the stone a convenient place to
rest their pails while exchanging gossip). But why did the date migrate from one
side to the other, and why did the stone now receive a designation? And as far as
that goes, what about that second pair of dies, for which Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson
had been charged?
What I think may have happened is this. If either Boulton or one of the Inverness
partners became aware that the original placement of the date would be highly subject
to wear (remember the fates of James Earle Fraser’s nickels and Hermon A. MacNeil’s
quarter!), a suggestion might have been made to put the date on the obverse, where
it would wear much better. But that would leave an unadorned rock on the reverse,
and while a local might recognize it, anyone outside the immediate neighborhood would
not. So Boulton might have been asked (or asked Inverness) that the name of the stone
be put there in place of the date. If a second pair of dies were already in existence,
this would be fairly quick work. The date would prove no problem, as there was plenty
of room for it on the other side; and if the stone were retooled to remove the date,
it would then be possible to punch in the new inscription. It strikes me that that
may be the reason why the stone had a fair degree of depth on the 1793s but was very
shallow on all subsequent issues.
The second Inverness token order dates to the autumn of 1794. Less than a month after
Boulton had been paid for the first batch, he sent out the second, on 19 November.
This contingent also appears to have been struck at forty-two to the pound, but it
was a good deal smaller than the first (which may come as a surprise: I recall seeing
a good many more 1794s than 1793s, and the Smithsonian Numismatic Collection has
a 1794 but lacks a 1793). Nonetheless, the records show that Boulton turned just
2,301 pounds 10 ounces of copper into commercial coins on this occasion, which works
out to a mintage of 96,668. Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson was charged £105.9s.10d.
for the metal, £43.3s.0d. for coining (again, the charge for moneying was 4 ½ pence
per pound), and £1.10s.9d. for seven casks, paper, and string, a total of £150.3s.7d.
A ton of halfpenny tokens is not a huge amount, but Boulton was so desperate to retain
the Inverness patronage (and so strapped for cash) that he did something he had never
done before: he actually offered Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson a four percent discount
if it paid up in a month or less. The Scottish firm did not take him up on his offer
on this occasion: Soho would not receive payment until 22 August 1795.
There were to be two more orders for Inverness. The first followed the descending
arc we have already seen for the 1794s: only six casks of tokens, comprising some
1,724 pounds 4 ounces of metal, struck this time at forty-six pieces to the pound.
(In this instance, Soho recorded the precise number of coins per pound; the lighter
weight must have been at the behest of the issuers, for the price of copper had actually
fallen from £102.8s.0d. to £99 per ton during the time between the second and third
token issue.) The reduction must have made coining difficult work, especially as
the pieces retained the lettered edge (PAYABLE . AT . MACKINTOSH INGLIS & WILSON’S)
seen on earlier, thicker members of the series. The Inverness businessmen received
79,316 halfpence, remitted on the last day of October 1795, for which they were charged
£109.13s.3d. This time they took advantage of Boulton’s discount for prompt payment,
actually sending a bill of exchange within a few days of receiving his wares.
Soho would strike a final order for Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson early in 1796. The
tokens bore that date, and they were probably struck at forty-six to the pound -
at least on the basis of observed specimens. But the descent I noted earlier was
arrested: Boulton struck some 85,524 pieces in this final order, more than six thousand
more than he had minted in 1795. The copper used for the 1796s amounted to nearly
seventy pounds more than for the 1795s, and the total cost of the 1796 coinage came
to £116.10s.7d. Boulton sent it from Soho on 25 February 1796, packed in seven casks.
The Inverness merchants paid up three weeks later and earned another discount from
the grateful Mr. Boulton.
If we add mintages for the four years, we obtain a figure of 384,085 pieces. The
Inverness coinage was certainly not the largest foray Matthew Boulton ever made into
the token field; but it was a respectable venture - and it had a unique consistency
and longevity, as I said at the beginning.
There are three points worth mentioning about the final tokens for Mackintosh, Inglis
& Wilson. The first is that, while more pieces were struck in 1796 than in 1795,
it has been my experience that the latter are more frequently encountered. My second
point is that, when I do see a 1796 Inverness halfpenny, it is almost always in middling
grade or worse. An uncirculated 1796 halfpenny would be, I think, a major rarity;
I have never seen one. And my third point is this: alone among the Inverness coins,
the 1796s come in two varieties, a fairly common D&H 4 and a distinctly rare D&H
5. The two share an obverse, but a second reverse had to be engraved, presumably
because the original reverse failed. The Smithsonian has two halfpennies which may
document such a problem, in the form of a looping break which extends from the rim
through the R of CONCORDIA, across the cornucopia, and on through the D and E of
FIDELITAS to the rim. Such a die, which also suffered from crumbling along its edge
(a natural result, when you are striking pieces as thin as these) could not have
remained in service as it was and would eventually have had to be replaced. There
is only one problem: the die in question was used for 1795 halfpennies, not 1796s.
What I think happened was this. While it is difficult to tell for certain, I believe
the original die used for the 1795s was lapped, polished in an effort to efface the
crack. This process can succeed, providing the crack in question is shallow and does
not effect the integrity of the die. What we would then obtain is a die somewhat
more shallow than it was before, which would give us coins with a lack of detail,
which might be confused with wear. That is why I would greatly appreciate seeing
a 1796 D&H 4 in uncirculated condition. For either Boulton’s people had lapped this
die - or they had acquired the ability to completely hub dies at will, wherein the
mass-production of identical coining implements would have held no challenges, and
hence no inducement to lap a defective die in an effort to retain it. I know that
Soho Mint was moving toward that goal in the 1790s. But I do not believe it had reached
In any event, it eventually became necessary to replace the reverse die responsible
for D&H 4. A new die was accordingly sunk; the easiest way to tell its products (D&H
5s) from D&H 4s is to look closely at the right side of the cornucopia, where the
flowers meet its upper border. If you see a tendril there, matching the one on the
left, the piece is a D&H 5. Oddly enough, Samuels only knew of one variety for 1796,
The 1796 issue was the last money Matthew Boulton struck for Mackintosh, Inglis &
Wilson. It was scarcely the last token he ever coined - he was striking for Dundee
at the very time he was finishing with Inverness, and he would continue to mint tokens
all the way down to 1804. And the earlier phases of the Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson
story coincided with work for a more famous issuer - Daniel Eccleston, a gadfly and
deadbeat whose tokens form another interesting story.
Thanks go to Malcolm Taylor for permission to use his illustration of the 1796 token.