MATTHEW BOULTON'S STEAM MINT - THE TOKEN STORY: 1792 - 1802
by Chris Leather
● Monneron Frères, Paris, Two Sols,1792
Engraved by Dupré, struck at Soho
A Shave with the National Razor
Meanwhile, work on two and five sol pieces for Monneron Frères of Paris commenced
in the autumn of 1791 and continued until the summer of 1792. These coins had been
designed and engraved in Paris by Dupré, the engraver to the French Mint, and were
the largest which Boulton had struck up to that time. The five sols, in particular,
were the source of much and continuing grief for Boulton, as he saw his mint shaking
and breaking, amidst a litter of broken dies, in the attempt to strike such large
pieces in such high relief. It was a relief of another kind when the coinage ended
in August 1792 and the Monnerons went out of business, after more than five million
pieces had been struck.
By September 1792 Boulton’s friend Samuel Garbett was writing “Mr Monneron was honourably
liberated, but the French are so frantic that life is very precarious in that country”
so it sounds as though at least one of the Monneron Frères had narrowly escaped a
shave with the National Razor.
Adieu Dumarest, bonjour Ponthon
From a token viewpoint, the remainder of 1792 was occupied by two repeat orders.
The first of these, and the very last from the Parys Mine, was for a small batch
of pennies. Just under a ton of these were struck; 34,320 tokens at the full weight
of one ounce each, dated 1791, were sent out in July 1792. The second order was from
our old friend the Iron Master, John Wilkinson. 94,183 tokens, dated 1792 and still
bearing the original forge design, were despatched in August.
Rambert Dumarest, for all his ability, was a sensitive creature, not ideally suited
to the boom or bust life at Soho, and his tenure as engraver in residence came to
a mutually agreed end in August 1791. His replacement was another Frenchman, Noel-Alexandre
Ponthon, who arrived as Dumarest was departing. His debut piece in the British token
series was an interesting exercise in perspective for Henry Brownbill of Leeds or,
rather, for Samuel Birchall, Brownbill’s Agent.
John Wilkinson, Iron Master, Halfpenny, Soho 1792
Henry Brownbill of Leeds, Halfpenny, Soho 1793
Bishop Blaise, patron Saint of Woolcombers
Henry Brownbill was a freeholder, watchmaker and silversmith with premises at the
Brig-gate in Leeds. The reverse of his token showed a very detailed perspective view
of the Mixed Cloth Hall which had been built in 1765. The obverse features a portrait
of Bishop Blaise, also known as Saint Blasius, a well-known martyr from Armenia,
who as the price of his faith, back in the 4th century, had been put to death by
being raked with red-hot rakes. Later he was adopted as the Patron Saint of Woolcombers
and, appropriately, his effigy is usually shown holding a rake. 172,233 tokens were
despatched to Leeds in March and May 1793.
The arrival of Conrad Heinrich Küchler
And there matters remained until December 1793, when Mackintosh, Inglis and Wilson,
of Inverness, ordered a consignment of halfpence. These were relatively undistinguished
pieces, struck at the relatively light weight of 42 to the pound, and are significant
only in that they represent the first commercial work by another new engraver recruited
by Boulton, the famous Conrad Heinrich Küchler. Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson were
makers of sail-cloth, sacking, and bagging, at their Citadel Works, the Citadel being
an area of quays and warehouses near the docks. They must have been pleased with
their tokens as the order was repeated in 1794, 1795 and 1796, and these dates appear
on the tokens struck each year.
Back for more
The later tokens share one difference from the 1793s, however. The date has been
moved from the stone on the reverse, to a space in the obverse legend. The stone
now becomes inscribed with the Gaelic “Clach na Cudden,” which is loosely translated
as “Stone of the Water Tub” This particular stone lay at the foot of the town Cross,
and was used by fair maidens, and others, to rest their ewers when fetching water
from the River Ness, as well as becoming the name of the team which won the Scottish
Highland Football League eighteen times between 1895 and 2004.
Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson of Inverness, Halfpenny, Soho 1794
The Lancashire Halfpenny
But time was passing, and Boulton’s hopes of a contract for a national coinage seemed
to be no nearer fruition. Token business was, for a while, welcome, though business
such as that of Daniel Eccleston can hardly have merited any celebration. Eccleston’s
Lancashire Halfpence, were designed and engraved by Ponthon, and reflected Boulton’s
current thinking in the design of coinage; their raised borders and incuse legends
foreshadowing the Cartwheel coinage which would come from Soho three years later.
They are undeniably handsome pieces; the oddity was not the coins, but their proprietor.
Daniel Eccleston was eccentric, even by the standards of the 18th Century, and his
issue of halfpence may well have been intended to help replenish his considerably
diminished coffers, especially as, having supplied the copper for the tokens, he
consistently omitted to pay Boulton the £57.2s.6d owed for the dies, striking, and
delivery of the coins. Boulton found himself having to be satisfied with 'half a
doz cocoanuts, very good ones.' By 1816, a notice of Eccleston’s death appeared in
the Lancaster Gazette, followed a week later by an announcement that he was not actually
defunct, but having passed over to “the other side” had written a letter to the subscribers
which started 'And the ladies cry, in doleful dumps, Daniel’s dead, what’s trumps?''
It was signed by the author as “Daniel Belteshazzar Caracticus Cadwallador Llewellyn
Ap-Tudor Plantagenet Eccleston.” So, perhaps, it is no surprise that Boulton was
never paid. Apart, that is, from the Cocoanuts, very good.
Gov John Graves Simcoe, Upper Canada, Pattern Halfpenny, 1794
Simcoe, Swainson and Ibberson -I
1794 and 1795 bring us to three of Boulton’s lesser known projects, a halfpenny token
for the Copper Company of Upper Canada, one for Isaac Swainson, and another for Christopher
Ibberson of the George and Blue Boar public house in Holborn.
The token for Upper Canada was ordered by Governor John Graves Simcoe, an officer
who had distinguished himself during the American Revolution at the head of the 1st
American Regiment (the Queen’s Rangers) and who, on being appointed to Upper Canada
in 1791, established his capital at Toronto, which he renamed York. His regiment
still exists, as the Queen’s York Rangers. Unfortunately, only a handful of his tokens
ever existed, engraved by Ponthon and struck in silver and copper. They are now eagerly
collected, especially in North America and, to coin a phrase, are worth a mint!
Isaac Swainson, London, Pattern Halfpenny, ND (1794)
Simcoe, Swainson and Ibberson - II
The Swainson token was prepared for Isaac Swainson, of 21 Frith Street in London,
the promoter of Velnos’s Vegetable Syrup, a miracle substance which, according to
Swainson, could cure almost everything, including venereal disease. The reverse of
his token, by Ponthon, shows the goddess Hygeia preparing another batch of Syrup
in work clothes which would hardly be approved of by the Health and Safety Police.
Unfortunately, Ponthon managed to spell Mr Swainson’s name in a characteristically
Gallic fashion, SUAINSON, resulting in the cancellation of the order after only a
dozen or so specimens were struck. It’s so difficult to find even a photograph that
the illustration above is copied from Dalton and Hamer’s book!
Christopher Ibberson, Holborn, Pattern Halfpenny, ND (1794)
Simcoe, Swainson and Ibberson - III
The Ibberson tokens are a little more plentiful, with an uninspired rendering of
St George and the Dragon by Ponthon, and a neatly impressed edge inscription, though
this was a process which Boulton was gradually abandoning, relying instead on the
precision of manufacture and the full weight of his tokens, for their security against
counterfeiting. Ibberson ordered half a ton of tokens in December 1794, but by February
1795 wrote again to Boulton, this time to cancel his order ‘as in consequence of
what appeared in the Gazette a few evenings ago, there is not a doubt but the Circulation
of the new Halfpence will be Stopped.’ In the event, it was not the Circulation but
Ibberson’s tokens themselves which were stopped.
Christopher Ibberson, Holborn, Pattern Halfpenny, ND (1794)
This piece is a late restrike or fabrication from the 1860s-1880s by W J Taylor,
a London engraver and diesinker who bought many of the Soho dies and tools at the
factory auction in 1850. It formerly belonged to Matthew Piers Watt Boulton.
Simcoe, Swainson and Ibberson - IV
The George and Blue Boar was a starting point for coaches heading North, and the
tokens themselves advertise “Mail and Post Coaches to all parts of England” but Ibberson
himself must have been a considerable businessman, as the records of the Old Bailey
show him twice sitting on the Middlesex Grand Jury: in 1790, and again in 1792.
The same records 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 3s.
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 the event Scoldwell got more transportation than he had bargained for.
John Wilkinson, Iron Master, Halfpenny, 1795
‘Pirate’ John Wilkinson
In March 1795, not long after the cancellation of the Ibberson order, Boulton despatched
what would prove to be the last of the Wilkinson tokens; 86,000 of them, still bearing
the original design of the trip hammer. Relations between Wilkinson and Boulton had
been deteriorating steadily, with Wilkinson complaining at Boulton’s delays and charges,
and Boulton protesting at Wilkinson’s complaints. The end came, probably, as a result
of Boulton receiving information that Wilkinson had been producing “pirate” steam
engines on which the royalty payments, due on the Boulton and Watt patents, had not
been made; eleven for his own works, and another dozen for outside customers, including
one for the Anglesey Druid himself, Thomas Williams! But as matters turned out, the
1795s are the last of the Iron Master’s tokens anyhow. Their time was passing, with
the enormous volumes of new and counterfeit tokens swamping the market.
George Cotton, Hornchurch, Bronzed Proof Halfpenny, ND (1795)
The Liberty of Havering-atte-Bower
But Boulton remained engaged on a number of token projects. The first of these was
an undated piece for George Cotton, of Romford, Essex. Cotton is reported to have
been a corn factor but, in the case of the token, is thought to have been acting
together with a number of other tradesmen in the Liberty of Havering-atte-Bower to
repel an invasion of ‘paltry trash’ emanating from the London forgers. Cotton had
written to Boulton in June 1795 stating that 'having many soldiers, and barrucks
building here' he wanted the tokens 'to see how they would take as a substitute for
halfpence.' 10,563 tokens were despatched on 2nd October 1795, very nearly the smallest
mintage of any of Boulton’s regularly issued tokens. They bear no date and no issuer’s
● William Croom, Dundee, Bronzed Proof Halfpenny, ND (1795/6)
● Daniel Eccleston’s Lancashire Halfpenny, Soho 1794
● Mackintosh, Inglis & Wilson of Inverness, Halfpenny, Soho 1793
Mr Croom’s Halfpennies
December 1795 saw the production of halfpenny tokens for William Croom, a Dundee
draper whose principal sales message was that he sold 'woollen and linen drapery
goods and watches, cheap.' And cheapness appears to have been his overriding concern.
The tokens were struck at a weight of forty six to the pound, just about the lightest
that would pass without resistance, and a total of 53,500 were sent off in two consignments,
the first in December and the second in February 1796.
William Croom, Dundee, Halfpenny, ND (1796)
Second, cheaper, issue struck by Peter Kempson of Birmingham!
Mr Croom Upset
By July 1796, he was writing to Boulton for more tokens, but Boulton replied that
as the price of copper had risen, so had his price. Croom went off in a huff, and
had his next batch of tokens produced by Kempson. Using similar dies, the results
are quite presentable, but of course do not feature the perfect roundness and the
sharp edges of the original coins.
By 1796, the private token business had evolved from large volume issues easing a
public crisis, to small volume issues for local traders, and even for individual
collectors and other virtuosi who wanted to join in. And it was in these circumstances
that Soho produced two of the finest tokens issued in the 18th century, and two patterns
of equal calibre, as a kind of farewell to the glory days before the massive production
of cartwheels started in 1797..
Sir George Jackson, Bt
Sir George Duckett, Bt
who changed his name in order to inherit
his wife’s uncle’s money)
Sir George Jackson, or, Sir George Duckett, Baronet
Sir George Jackson, 1st Baronet, of Bishop’s Stortford, was a man of multiple interests.
MP, Naval Administrator, Judge Advocate of the Fleet, and patron of Captain Cook,
he was also heavily interested in developing the trade carried on the River Stort,
eventually becoming sole proprietor of the Stort Navigation.
He approached Boulton, through an agent, in May 1795 with a view to an issue of halfpenny
tokens. Boulton agreed to the project, and then forgot about it until early in 1796.
Being reminded, he assigned Küchler to design and engrave the tokens, which he did,
incorporating astonishing detail and pretty good perspective. In mint state, these
are remarkable coins, and it is said that Boulton always kept a few handy to give
out as gifts or samples, but, as copper is a soft medium, they don’t wear very well
in circulation. 562 pounds of tokens were struck at forty-four to the pound, a grand
total of 24,728 coins.
We might speculate that, had there been no cartwheel coinage, Sir George Jackson
would have been back, a year or so later, for a re-issue with a change of name, because
in the meantime he had become Sir George Duckett, part of the price to be paid for
a significant legacy from his second wife’s rather eccentric uncle.
Sir George Jackson, Stort Navigation, Halfpenny, 1795 ( struck in 1796)
This example came from the Boulton family, and may have been one of the
pieces kept by Matthew Boulton to give to friends and contacts.
George George, Penryn, Halfpenny, ND (1796)
The final token to be issued in quantity before the cartwheels rolled over the land
was a spectacular piece commemorating the Penryn Volunteers, one of many militia
bodies formed to counter the threat of a French invasion. The Penryn token paid tribute
to Lord de Dunstanville who had raised the troop, as well, it should be said, as
having been a shareholder in the Cornish Metal Company of famous memory. They were
ordered by an old acquaintance of Boulton’s, Col George George; the two had known
each other since the days of the CMC back in 1787. Once again Küchler was responsible
for the design, and on this occasion he seems to have been let loose, producing a
design which is reminiscent of the coins issued by the German princely states of
the period. 19,000 tokens were despatched to Cornwall in August 1796.
Philip Parry Price Myddelton, Kentucky, Pattern struck in silver, 1796
The Colonisation of Newgate
Which brings us to another of those tokens which might have been, almost was, but
finally wasn’t. Philip Parry Price Myddelton planned to escape what he saw as the
oppression of British society by founding a new colony in Kentucky, an unlikely proposition
as Kentucky, though not one of the original United States, had joined that union
in 1792. Of course, all new colonies require money, so Myddelton wrote to Boulton
in January 1796 outlining his plans for a token, and describing a rather less than
usually imperial Britannia: with her head lowered, her spear reversed. Before her,
the demons of Discord and Tyranny treading under foot the Emblems of Liberty and
Justice. Küchler really had fun with this one, and his engraving represents an exuberant
example of 18th century kitsch. Myddelton's dream of Kentucky was upset when, a few
days before he was due to set sail, he was arrested for soliciting the emigration
of artificers, and spent the next three and a half years colonising Newgate Prison.
Only around twenty of the tokens remain to demonstrate what might have been.
And these issues close the story of the eighteenth century token coinage from Soho.
There remain three issues from the nineteenth century, one large, one small, and
one which hardly registers at all.
Robert Woodcock & Company, Enniscorthy, Proof Irish Halfpenny 1800 (1801)
Robert Woodcock of Enniscorthy
The large issue is a token struck for Robert Woodcock and Company, bankers in the
Irish town of Enniscorthy. Struck at the abnormally light weight of fifty-eight to
the pound, the tokens represent a halfpenny Irish, an amount less than a halfpenny
sterling. But not that much less! The designs were engraved by Küchler, but presumably
were dictated by the proprietor. Why else would the reverse carry a view of the graveyard
at the bottom of Vinegar Hill, where in August 1798 the forces of the Crown finally
defeated the United Irishmen, with massacre and hatred on both sides? The obverse
of the token shows a more pacific scene, with a view of Enniscorthy Castle, overlooking
the River Slaney. 655,304 tokens were sent in two shipments in February 1801 and,
it seems, mostly turn up today in well worn condition.
Davison & Hawksley, Arnold Mill, Copper Sixpence 1791 (1802?)
A series of tokens, of nominal value sixpence, one shilling, half crown and crown,
were prepared for Messrs Davison and Hawksley, of the Arnold Mill, near Nottingham.
Exactly when is difficult to say. Those few tokens which have come down to us are
dated 1791, and it used to be assumed that the bulk of the mintage was lost in the
fire which destroyed the Works in that year. But the fire was in January 1791 and
Davison & Hawksley did not pay for the tokens until August 1802, so could it be that
they were actually struck shortly before then, and the date 1791 is by way of being
a memorial. The design of the fasces and the cap of liberty, reminiscent of the French
Revolution, would suggest 1791, but the style of the tokens is more in tune with
the later date.
The final tokens struck by Boulton for the British Isles were again for Ireland,
this time for thirteen pence Irish, or one shilling sterling. They had been ordered
by Viscount Charleville, via his agent Frederick Trench, in the spring of 1802 and
were struck in two tranches, in February 1803 and July 1804, for a total of 10,151
tokens, the smallest mintage of any of Boulton’s regular token coinages. They are
unusual for two reasons. Lord Charleville obviously did not wish to waste a lot of
time on redemptions, or else did not expect his tenants to try to redeem their tokens,
because payment was limited to the first Tuesday in each month, only. The second
reason for interest is that the dies were engraved by John Gregory Hancock. They
were his last work for Boulton, and the last tokens he engraved.
And as the first tokens to be struck by Boulton, thirteen years before, had also
been engraved by Hancock we have, in a fashion come, full circle. There were to be
no more tokens for the British Isles. Other tokens would come and go; many millions
of wafer thin cockerels for Singapore merchants in the 1820s and 30s, and the final,
rather pathetic, issue of pennies for Melbourne grocers Annand Smith, struck on one
machine in 1849 while all around the final dismantling of the Soho mint was in hand.
But Boulton deserves much, much better than this. Let his epitaph be the glorious
coins of the 1790s, the world’s first truly modern coins.