Kingdom of Great Britain
Middlesex Token Half Penny – 1795
During the era of revolution (America & France) Great Britain also became a bit restive. She was also in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, a source of additional social disruption that saw populations gathering around industrial areas creating a new way of factory centered life. Great Britain escaped revolution, but did see some land reforms, that eased the tensions somewhat. The private minting of pennies, half pennies and farthings filled the need for small change that the British mint was not fulfilling. With the new factory employment, often in cotton mills, the workers received their daily or weekly pay in little envelopes containing these copper coins.
These factors led to a widening of the crack between the haves and the have-nots. Royalists being the majority and dominant ‘haves’, including a growing middle class, and a disaffected few advocating for more substantive reforms. Both groups saw their opinions expressed in the designs found on some ‘political & social’ half-penny, and farthing, tokens of the day. An even smaller group of tokens exhibited these opinions in reference to the tragic events of the French Revolution. All of these tokens were, and are, eagerly sought out by collectors.
Our ‘Coin Spotlight’ piece here is a little ambiguous at first sight. It features the jugate portraits of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette of France with the surrounding legend expressing that fact, in French. The reverse shows the horrible invention of Dr. Guillotine, with head catching basket, before the skewed image of a building with the denomination of ‘HALFPENNY’ above. As presented it could leave the viewer wondering about the exact message. With the aid of a sister token one can discern the Royalist nature of this token. While this other token bears the same royal portraits on the obverse the reverse texts states: ‘MURD. BY / THE FACTIOUS. / LOUIS XVI. JAN. 21 / M. ANTOINETTE / OCT. 16. / 1793. Reference Dalton & Hamer – Middlesex # 993a. You can see an example of this half-penny token at this LINK.
This token (D&H– Middlesex # 513, rarity RR, w/ diagonal milled edge) is one of many struck by John Skidmore & Son (Paul). A main source of income for the Skidmores was their iron foundry. He was responsible for several inventions that helped people heat their homes from a fireplace. His stovegrates and registers were so good he even held the appointment of stovegrate maker for His Majesties Board of Ordnance. After becoming Skidmore & Son they produced numerous tokens, ultimately responsible for more than a quarter of all the token varieties produced in the late 18th century, including most of those issued by Matthew Denton, Thomas Prattent, and Thomas Spence. The seeming sentiments of this Loyalist piece may indicate it is not product for the revolutionary Thomas Spence however.