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17th Century Farthing Tokens

William Meredith Mercer of Carline WMs 1668 Brass Farthing
Many thanks to Newport Museum and Art Gallery for their permission to photograph and display the token above.
Size approximately 15mm diameter, like a 5p piece.

William Meredith Mercer of Carline
WMs 1668 Brass Farthing

During the 17th century some private retailers issued their own small change due to the lack of official coins of small denominations. Around 128 businesses are known to have issued their own farthings, halfpennies and pennies in Wales. For England this figure rockets to over 15000!

We are looking at a time before the industrial revolution changed the occupations of the people and the relative sizes of the towns. So we find that in Caerleon one mercer issued two tokens - yet no examples are known for premises in Newport or Cardiff.

These tokens were made from copper or brass, and it would seem the retailers involved were onto a good thing... The cost of production was very low. They could be given as change when a purchase was made and it seems it was all gain for the retailer. First, some of the customers would not return to redeem the value of their tokens. Second, due to their small size, many of the tokens were lost. Third, some retailers demanded more tokens than face value in exchange for goods, for example six farthing tokens for a penny worth of purchases. And finally some traders even refused to accept their own tokens!

Turning to our example, William Meredith is described as a mercer. This probably means that he was a general trader - a combination of draper and grocer. His shop was most likely situated on the High Street between the present Ffwrwm and the Priory.

William Meredith 1669 A Caerlyon Farthing
Many thanks to Jerry Davis for allowing us to photograph his token and display it here.

William Meredith issued another farthing a year later in 1669 (above). Centre of obverse: plumes through coronet; centre of reverse: pikeman. It bore the legend:

William Meredith 1669 A Caerlyon Farthing

This may have been a ruse to justify him refusing to accept the earlier token in exchange for goods or cash. Anyway, he can't have been successful with his business as he was declared bankrupt in 1691/92.

And what about the unusual spellings of Caerleon (Carline and Caerlyon)... well these are just two examples of the many found through the ages. For more please follow this link.

We are keen to purchase examples of these tokens. If you are fortunate enough to own one please contact us via the link below.

See also a 19th century token, or check, for the Red Lion Caerleon

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