HIS LAST BOW: Matthew Boulton’s Tokens for Tullamore
by Dr Richard G Doty
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 Macclesfield and 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
'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]
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
'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.