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Beer and tobacco, God and Mammon – MB81 token auction

Beer and tobacco used to go together as two of life’s pleasures – until the dangers to health were pointed out and legislation came in.  But as numismatic series to collect you can have fun seeking out tokens which feature both though perhaps not on the same item.  The current auction, MB81 closing on 4 May for bids, has a small collection of tobacco and smoking related tokens plus the second tranche of pub tokens from North West England – Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria, with some other consignments from the Midlands, the South West and Yorkshire.

Lot 14 in the sale is a good pictorial start for those interested in the tobacco series.  John King ran a tobacconist shop at 10 London Road, Southwark, London in the 1820’s.   This is one of the early farthing sized tokens in the 19th century that were initially made to advertise the shop. Eventually the tokens circulated as unofficial coins.

MB81-14 John King’s tobacconist token

The portrait has the look of the recently late king George III, giving an air of authenticity and gravitas to the token.

Innocent Virtuoso Tobacconist & Purveyor of Foreign Snuff, unofficial farthing of 1821 (MB81-21)

There is something ironic about a purveyor of snuff and tobacco being called Innocent.  Haven’t been able to find out who Mr Virtuoso was but what a brilliant name!  And he issued a rather nice unofficial farthing.

The Albion Hotel token (lot 265) didn’t circulate as a coin as such but looks very much like one.  It shows Britannia similar to her image on the circulating pennies.  It’s from Bury, Lancashire, issued by John Horrox  in gilt copper so would have looked great when new and still looks good now.

Gilt bronze token for the Albion Hotel, Bury MB81-265

In general pub checks aren’t pictorial but simply give the name of the hostelry e.g. The Viaduct Inn (lot 293) without further information (it’s from Somerset according to Minitt). Generally the token has the place name or town and perhaps the landlord’s name and a year.  The reverse might have a value, e.g. 3D or 2D but very often it’s blank.  Usually it’s for pre-payment of beer and spirits. It might be given to you by your employer in lieu of wages; quite normal in areas with heavy industry.   As a result there’s lots of opportunity for research and indeed for field work to see if the pub still exists. Many have been re-imagined and re-configured since the tokens were issued.

Over the years we’ve sold thousands of market tokens but this is the first time we’ve had such a run of Birmingham market tokens lots 341-471.

Birmingham Smithfield Market token issued by Geo. Holder MB81-396

Modestly priced it’s a great opportunity to start or complete a collection of these relics of the Birmingham Wholesale Markets, selling not just fruit, vegetables and fish but live pigs and cattle from the 19th century onwards.  The original Smithfield Market Birmingham was demolished in the 1960’s, moved and about to move again out to Witton.

As ever, there are tokens that we think are unrecorded.  One not found in Brian Edge’s excellent catalogue of Cheshire tokens and medals is a penny token for Bollington Church Sunday School.  He does however list medals for the church. Lots more tokens  with stories to tell pepper the auction catalogue; I haven’t even started on the foreign tokens yet – that’s for another day.  Remember to get your bids in early (post alas is erratic these days) and no later than 4 May, 12 noon BST.  Email is fine as are phone bids backed by confirmation in the post – and remember there’s no buyer’s commission.  Happy hunting!

Bollington Church Sunday School 1D bronze bracteate 22.5mm. lot MB81-483

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