Never officially recognised, traders tokens were condoned by the authorities because of the cronic shortage of small denomination coinage, and the inability of government mints to keep pace with the rapidly growing economy. The tokens passed between traders and customers on the understanding that they could be redeemed for official coinage if required. They could be accepted or rejected at the customer's choice.
|The first Australian token was the 1823 Tasmanian shilling of Hobart sawmillers McIntosh & Degraves. The piece is not thought to have circulated.|
Heaton & Sons struck the first copper Australian tokens in 1849. They were originally intended for use on Saturdays - market day - to counter the effects of a number of profiteers who would buy up the few coins that were available and sell them to traders only for a premium of five or ten percent.
|Annand, a Melbourne grocer and member of the city council, was the first to break this racketeering. He announced that he had coined a large number of penny pieces in Birmingham. The undated Annand, Smith & Co. tokens were similar in design and size to George III pennies.|
The kangaroo symbol led a distinctive series of Australian reverse designs which numismatists believed, until recently, were attributable to William Taylor. The discovery, in 1968, of records from Ralph Heaton & Sons dating back to the mid-19th century, modified this belief. With the records, a box of cardboard impressions of coins, tokens and medal dies was found. The cards were samples of the company's work, presented in a manner which was easy to store and transport.
|Well over a hundred of the designs were for Australian and New Zealand traders tokens, which had been attributed by Dr Arthur Andrews and others, to William Taylor. The find was to re-write the history of the mid-19th century token series, enhancing the role played by Heaton & Sons and playing down the role of the Kangaroo Office and Taylor.|
Taylor is also known to have created his own kangaroo and emu design by copying it from Heaton & Sons and adding his own signature in tiny letters in the exergue.
|During the short, three year life of William Taylor's Port Phillip Kangaroo Office, traders tokens became the main source of revenue. The company's primary aim of minting gold coins had failed to materialise and an alternate source of revenue was needed to keep the company afloat. Kangaroo Office reverse designs were used on Taylor's earliest tokens - undated halfpennies issued by Crombie, Clapperton & Findlay and Thrale & Cross.|
The side on which the trader's name or business details appear is regarded as the obverse. Most traders did not want the added expense of having two dies cut. Token makers offered them a choice of standard designs, most appealing to the popular sentiments of land and country. These stock designs have been used to identify their makers.
At least ten different token and die makers are known to have produced tokens which circulated in Australia and New Zealand. They include Heaton & Sons; W J Taylor; Thomas Stokes; J C Thornthwaite; Hogarth, Erichsen & Co.; Whitty & Brown; Smith & Kemp; and T Pope & Co. The origin of a number of tokens, not attributable to one of these makers, remains uncertain.
|In 1850, J C Thornthwaite, an English seal engraver who had arrived in Sydney the previous year, made the first attempt at producing an Australian made token. A crude, uniface penny piece resulted from his early attempts. In 1852, he was engaged by Samuel Peek to produce tokens for Peek and Campbell's Tea Stores. With no sophisticated machinery or raw materials, Thornthwaite made do with what he could find. At first, copper blanks were cut from the end of a copper rod by hacksaw. Later, they were cut from a discarded steamship funnel. A drop hammer was used to strike the tokens.|
|In 1854, Thornthwaite produced silver threepenny tokens for himself and James Campbell. The silver, obtained by melting old coins, was more valuable, intrinsically, than the then face value of the pieces. All are now extremely rare. One of Thornthwaite's 'lost treasures' is a unique silver sixpence which he struck for himself as a talisman. The piece was stolen and is believed to have been smuggled to England.|
The issue of tokens by trading companies was a profitable exercise for some, but not for others. Success depended on acceptance by the public. This was, to a large extent, determined by weight and size. Interestingly, the solvency of the issuer was not a major factor. Pennies with a diameter of 33 to 34 millimeters, and weighing around 230 grains were acceptable because they approximated legal tender British pennies. These issues contained an intrinsic copper value which was about half the face value, leaving a handsome profit if enough were issued and accepted. Attempts to issue smaller sized pennies were less successful. John Gidley Flemming's 31mm, 140 grain penny token of 1874 was an example. Large numbers were struck, but few were accepted by the public. Even today, specimens showing little or no wear are readily available.
The most prolific maker of Australian tokens was Thomas Stokes. In late 1861, he designed a set of 4 different stock reverses, all dated 1862. They were a vine branch, an Australian coat of arms, an emu and a wheatsheaf. Using equipment he had purchased five years earlier from William Taylor after the Kangaroo Office venture had failed, Stokes rapidly became the Australian traders' token maker of choice. The quality of his workmanship was high, his prices were reasonable, there was no lengthy shipping delay as their was with British makers, and if a customer did not want to pay for special dies to be cut, Stokes would use two of his stock reverses.
High demand meant high volumes and soon the original dies wore out. Their replacements often showed minor variations. All of Stokes stock designs are remarkable for the unusually high number of varieties that are found.
The blessing of the early trader's tokens of 1849, had become a curse by 1863. Profiteering in token issues, now possible because of the large production capacity offered by Thomas Stokes, led to their demise. They were banned in Victoria in that year. Many tons of Victorian tokens were bought cheaply and subsequently off-loaded into the other colonies, particularly to Adelaide where the huge numbers caused major problems. On 9th April, 1864, the Sydney Times reported:
In the history and general appearance of this little heap of browns, so fortuitously brought together, there were three points of a puzzling character: first the comparative paucity of the Queen's coinage, and the great difference in size and weight between the two specimens of it; secondly, the variety in all the rest of the copper tokens, four of them only being exactly alike; and thirdly, the fact that amongst the ten pieces of Australian manufacture, no less than eight had been stamped in the adjacent colonies, and but two out of the whole number in this - one in Sydney and one Jamberoo...'
So fatal was this to small dealings, however, and so inconvenient to retailers in general, even of the wealthier class, that upon some of the larger houses declaring a willingness to receive tokens in payment, as being intrinsically worth what they passed for, than the tide of popular feeling turned at once in their favour, and almost immediately thereafter, scarcely anything else was in circulation.
This, we have been informed, arises from many of the smaller retailers having, since the panic, adopted the practice of hoarding up the imperial copper coins, as they come into their hands, and passing off at every opportunity the tokens, thus accumulating only what is intrinsically valuable to a certainty, and putting by a reserve of small change against the possible recurrence of a second panic more sweeping and lasting than the first...'
Stokes turned to making silverware and medals. The business became Stokes & Son in 1897 and a proprietary company in 1911, one year after Thomas Stokes death. Collectors are now wary of most Stokes, and many of William Taylor's token issues. The reason for this lies in the number of restrikes which have reached the numismatic market over the years. These restrikes, often from original dies, are difficult to pick without a close comparison to the original strikes.
Australian Coins, Notes & Medals - Bill Myatt & Tom Hanley, 1980.