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HIS LAST BOW: Matthew Boulton’s Tokens for Tullamore

by Dr Richard G Doty

His Last Bow - Tokens for Tullamore

As the nineteenth century opened, Matthew Boulton was in his early seventies, not in the best of health, already a victim of the kidney complaint which would take his life within a few years. Already the illness was shrinking his world: the entrepreneur complained to a friend that the extensive circle of his previous activities had now shrunk to the point occupied by his bed. But he still had spirit: in 1803, annoyed by the pretensions of Jean-Pierre Droz (who was claiming the invention of steam-powered coining as his own), Boulton commissioned a medal (struck by Soho and designed by Droz’s successor Rambert Dumarest), to tell his side of the story. And he still had moneying in him, too: these final years would see coins for India, Ireland, and Great Britain - and a final token, for an Irish grandee named Viscount Charleville.


The token in question has distinctive claims to our attention - beyond the fact that it was the last of a long line of Soho ‘provincial coins’, stretching back fifteen years. It was the largest token denomination Boulton ever struck - thirteen pence Irish, the equivalent of twelve pence English. It was one of the heaviest tokens which Boulton ever created, each piece weighing nearly an ounce. And it neatly closed a circle: the artist responsible for this final Boulton token had created the dies for the first of them.


Talk about an Irish project began in the spring of 1802. On 25 April, Matthew Boulton received a letter from a Dubliner named Frederick Trench, who had recently visited Soho and was writing to thank its owner for his ‘Hospitallity’. Trench had a friend named Charles William Bury, who had recently been created Viscount Charleville and Baron Tullamore. The Viscount had undertaken an ambitious building project on his property, located about fifty miles west of the capital, and he needed something with which to pay his workers:


'I know he has a wish (as I had) to have Tokens which could not be Counterfeited, Struck off -- as he is at this moment building a most splendid Gothick Residence; it would be peculiarly convenient; the [local] Silver [in] Circulation being so execrable, and worse than Useless'


The Viscount’s building schemes would explain the high denomination of the tokens he received: they were intended to serve as substitutes for suspect silver coins. His projects would also explain the rather peculiar wording which each piece bore, promising payment on the first Tuesday in each month: such language was a common feature in labor contracts of the day. Charleville would eventually get his tokens - two sets of them, in fact.

Token for thirteen pence Irish, payable on the first Tuesday in each month

at the estate of Viscount Charleville

But we hear nothing more of the idea for the next several months. Matthew Boulton’s mint was now engaged in filling orders for the East India Company - for a new possession, Ceylon, taken from the Dutch a few years earlier, and for an old one, Madras. Soho would strike nearly six and one-half million coins for Ceylon in the spring of 1802 and would soon begin the creation of around thirty-five million more for Madras, an activity which would continue through the spring of 1803. Since Charleville wanted a few thousand tokens rather than millions of coins, and was easy-going while the East India Company was desperate, we may perhaps explain the lengthy silence of the Matthew Boulton Papers: Soho was going for the main chance.


The token discussion resurfaced at the beginning of 1803. Two of the Mint Books covering that year recorded a payment of six guineas to a designer for engraving a die for Lord Charleville. This can only have been for the Tullamore pieces. We shall address the phenomenon of the recorded creation of a single die in due course. But for now, note that the person receiving the payment was John Gregory Hancock, Sr.


As much as any other man, Hancock merits our respect as the creator of the eighteenth-century provincial coin. He was there from the beginning, working successively on the Parys Mines pennies and halfpennies, the Cronbane halfpennies, most of the genuine Wilkinson and all of the genuine Hutchison halfpennies, and many others. He increasingly turned his attentions to medals as the 1790s progressed, and his somewhat quarrelsome nature may have led to a lacuna in his employment, of which Matthew Boulton now took advantage.


Hancock was paid for his die on 22 January 1803. By the beginning of the following month, an order of 4,100 tokens had left Soho on its way to Ireland. Charleville was charged £25.2s.6d for the work, £10.19s.4 ½d. for the copper, £3.13s.1 ½d. for the coining, and £10.10s.0d. for the dies (3 February 1803).


The Viscount pronounced himself well-satisfied with the tokens he received. In fact,


'I have found so much convenience from the circulation of the copper Tokens which you had the goodness to execute for me ... & my neighbours like them so much better than any other circulating medium we at present possess, the distress arising from our want of Silver currency being great, I must request you to have any convenient number of the same Tokens not much exceeding --6000-- struck off & forwarded to me here through the same [means] as the last. As I do not intend, after these, to have any more struck off, at least for some time may I request you to have the Dies sent me, with these Tokens; & if you will have the goodness to inform me, about what time I might expect to have them, as getting them soon is a great object, you will much oblige My dear Sir

Your very faithfl: Sert: Charleville'

Gilt Proofs of the Tullamore thirteen pence token

Boulton delayed responding for nearly a month, but for good reason. As he triumphantly told Charleville,


'all my feeble powers of Body & mind have been totaly absorbd by a Contract I enterd into (with the Bank of England & the Bank of Ireland) to recoin 2 Million of Spanish dollars in 5 Weeks for the use of the publick which is an unpresidented operation & required many original considerations as it was necessary to recoin them in Steel Collars (without remelting them) & thereby render them perfectly round although they vary more than 1/4 of an Inch in Diamr [diameter]. I have now compleated the whole of that Contract ... I am therefore now at liberty to attend to your Lordships order which I have put in hand this morng [morning] & I expect it will be finishd to morrow [sic] when it shall be sent without a moments delay through the same Chanel [sic] as before.'


Charleville had requested six thousand or so tokens in the second shipment, and that was the number he received - some 6,051, to be exact. There was a short delay in filling the order, however: Boulton ruefully reported that on the day after his letter to Charleville:


'a misfortune befell the press that was allotted for the Coinage of your Lordship’s Copper tokens which caused an unexpected delay in the Striking of them[;] however I have now the pleasure of saying they were sent from hence about 3 or 4 days since & I hope they will arive in Dublin in the course of the present week.'


The tokens were apparently sent on 14 July 1804. The grand total of charges for this second shipment amounted to £24.1s.0d. (£18.18s.0d. for the copper, £5.0s.3d. for the coining, and £0.2s.9d. for the cask). As requested, the dies were sent along with the tokens. The combined coinage of the two orders came to 10,151 ordinary pieces, plus forty-eight specimens in gilt copper and a dozen copper proofs. These ‘special’ strikes had been sent out in 1803 - perhaps later in February, when a miscellaneous charge of twopence was recorded for ‘booking a parcel to Lord Charleville’. The final figure for the Charleville tokens thus stood at 10,211.


Earlier, I mentioned an interesting fact about this token. That is, Hancock was paid six guineas for engraving one die, and Charleville was charged ten guineas for a pair of dies. But Dalton & Hamer listed four die varieties, not one. There are indeed four varieties, employing two obverse and four reverse dies. I cannot explain why the Viscount was undercharged, or why or whether Hancock was underpaid. Soho’s accounts were neither always complete nor completely accurate; and Matthew Boulton may have been generous with the nobleman out of embarassment for tardy service, or simply because of the fact that he was a nobleman, and hence deserving of special consideration. Whatever the reason, this attractive token, the last to exit Soho Mint, does exist in four varieties, two fairly scarce and two very rare.



Thanks are due to Bill McKivor of The Copper Corner, Seattle, WA, for permission to use his illustrations of the two Tullamore tokens shown above.