Contactless, cashless or coins? Hmm.. the practicalities of payment. Yesterday I was collecting the Simmons Gallery MB70 auction catalogues from the printers (communion tokens!) and parked outside the printer’s offices in Islington. Parking your car is hard enough without the added trauma of paying for it. Hooray! A parking place.
Boohoo! the machine doesn’t take coins – it used to but now it’s only pay by phone. Great? Well if you don’t have a phone on you it’s not at all convenient.
Three different kind gentlemen agreed to lend me their phones (I must be persuasive) but it was so difficult (even though I’d previously registered) I gave up in exasperation after 3 goes and 15 minutes and had to walk round the block (leaving the car parked next to a police car) to pay in coin in the local sweetshop. Now you might say who doesn’t have a smartphone these days? Answer, lots of people – and coins are so simple to use. Admittedly you then have to empty the machines (a job for someone, a security problem). So I can see why authorities want to move to a cashless society. I can also see the reason behind contactless payments e.g. for bus rides, coffee shops etc -think of being delayed by someone paying for their skinny latte and panini with a card.
But coinage is so useful we invent it if there isn’t enough to go around. Think about the unofficial 17th century tokens, farthings and halfpennies, issued by all sorts of tradespeople as a consequence of a shortage of small change after the English Civil War. From the publican to the draper, the grocer and the candlemaker, all over England tradesmen and women issued tokens. It’s really interesting to see that at that time the initials on the tokens were of both husband and wife – equality in business.
Eighteenth century tokens are a different matter. It wasn’t just that small change was lacking. The rich were OK – banknotes were being issued and used (sounds familiar? think of credit cards and debit cards). Ultimately some of these were bad (sounds even more familiar in view of the banking crash of 2008). The tokens were initially used to pay factory workers; this was the industrial revolution after all. Both Lanark Mills and Ironbridge, cutting edge manufactories, had tokens, not forgetting Boulton’s Soho Manufactory in Birmingham. Later on the Co-operatives issued tokens as their dividends, again to be spent in their shops. The tokens solved a problem, like the new phone apps but they were not universal.
And that really is what makes coinage so necessary – its universal acceptance.