Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Weight: 10.660 g
Gift of Sir Joseph and Lady Banks
CM SS Banks II 192-89
Coins and Medals
Copper halfpenny token issued by Thomas Spence
London, England, AD 1796
A celebration of science and technology
Like coins, tokens became popular with British collectors during the eighteenth century. Collectors formed societies where they could buy, sell and exchange coins and tokens to complete their collections. They would also use lists and books which helped them order the pieces into categories.
At this time penny and halfpenny tokens were produced in large quantities by private issuers. These low-value tokens were created initially to fill a gap in the currency, as the supply of official copper coins was insufficient for small scale transactions, but soon commercial companies began to design series of copper tokens principally for collectors. Images of buildings and of the industrial and manufacturing achievements of the age were popular, and tokens with political subjects were also produced.
This halfpenny token shows the screw press, a machine used to manufacture coins. It was issued by the bookseller and print and coin dealer, Thomas Spence, in 1796. Spence also issued tokens commenting on political issues that incorporated caricatures. This period saw the first application, by Matthew Boulton and James Watt, of steam-powered machines in the production of coins and tokens. This token records this type of achievement, and constitutes a celebration of science and technology.
D. Bindman, The shadow of the guillotine: (London, The British Museum Press, 1989)
R. Dalton and S.H. Hamer, The provincial token-coinage o (London, 1910)