British Museum collections, £12.99
Weight: 1.780 g
Coins and Medals
Copper halfpenny token of John Morse
Watford, Hertfordshire, England, AD 1660
Death on a token
Token small change made of copper was first introduced to England in the early seventeenth century. The first examples, the farthing tokens of James I and Charles I, were both over-produced and heavily counterfeited, despite the fact that they were to be used only for small sums and could be refused as payment. Their issue was stopped in 1644. Over the next thirty years, there was no official national supply of small change. Instead local tradesmen and town corporations took on this role by privately issuing halfpenny and farthing tokens across England, Wales and Ireland. Each individual issue was small, and they were generally used very locally. The commonest designs featured the initials of the issuer, the arms of a company such as the Grocers or Mercers, or something connected with the issuer's trade.
The design of this example is unusual. The skeletal figure of Death, mors in Latin, is a punning reference to the name of the issuer, John Morse. The reverse side is more usual, with the initials of the issuer, IM, for John Morse (Iohannes Morse in Latin), with a second I. Usually (if the issuer is a man), the initials include that of his wife, but documentary sources describe Morse as widowed, hence the repetition of his initial.
W. Boyne and G.C. Williamson (ed.), Trade tokens issued in the sev (London, E. Stock, 1889)
G. Berry, Seventeenth century England: t (London, Seaby, 1988)
J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)