Trade token, c. 1667
Trade token from the Turk's Head coffee shop, advertising its new address in Barbican, formerly in Pannyer Alley.
These tiny copper tokens- almost all less than two centimetres across- are some of the millions of trade tokens that became the currency of ordinary Londoners in the mid-17th century. Between about 1648 and 1673, almost no small-value coins were minted by the government.
Official change was in short supply and whilst the wealthy used credit, everybody else needed a way to do business. So traders pressed their own farthing or half-penny tokens to give as change.
Tokens could be spent locally, not just in the business of the person that issued them. Businesses accepted tokens issued by people they knew and trusted to honour its value.
The tokens on display in (Un)common Currency all come from Barbican Street, now Beech Street tunnel. It was a thriving community of tradesmen, particularly in new and second-hand clothing, with plentiful inns and coffee houses. Each token includes the names, initials and symbols of some of these business people – including bodice maker James Leech, meal man William Milton, and chandler Thomas Cooper. Robert Hayes cleverly used his token to advertise the new address of his Turk's Head coffee shop, after he had to move premises due to the Great Fire of London.
The Crown began to produce farthings again in 1672, and a proclamation banned the private issuing of trade tokens. But further proclamations issued in 1673 and 1674 suggest that they continued to circulate, showing that locally-made, reputation-backed currency served a valuable purpose in London's economy.